UC Berkeley scientists create software to fight global warming
Berkeley, California - Dr. Cristiano Facanha of ICF International, a consulting firm that advises governmental agencies and others on transportation issues, and Dr. Arpad Horvath of the University of California at Berkeley have analyzed shipping emissions through their work with supply chains and life-cycle analysis for a combined total of 20 years. The pair’s methodology has also now become the foundation for a new and a easy to use web software that allows online retailers to offer consumers the option to offset the emissions caused by their order shipments.
They are amongst the first scientists in the world to develop a methodology for evaluating shipping life-cycle emissions and their most recent reports have caught the interest of media, scientists, and environmental activists concerned about climate change in general, and the effects of shipping on the environment and public health, in particular.
Five years ago, Horvath was at the University of California at Berkeley, conducting life-cycle assessment studies for products and services, including various buildings, construction activities, pavements, telework, and electricity generation, when Facanha showed up, fresh from a job in the shipping industry and looking for a career shift. Facanha had been designing supply chains for American President Lines, a shipping company, streamlining transportation and warehouse plans to deliver cost savings to manufacturers.
“The solutions we developed improved the efficiency of supply chains, but I felt the lack of an environmental perspective,”¯ he says, “It was then that I decided to shift my career towards the environmental area, while leveraging my previous background in freight transportation.”¯ Facanha said.
He joined the PhD program in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley, and found working with Dr. Horvath a natural match. “We combined my experience in freight transportation with his background in life-cycle assessment, which sprouted the idea of performing an LCA (life-cycle assessment) of freight transportation.”¯
Together, they have now published a number of studies on the topic, and are widely respected experts in their field. In fact, they are amongst a small handful of scientists around the globe conducting comprehensive life-cycle analysis of various shipping modes to evaluate the impact of shipping on the environment. Both cite the environmental and public health impacts of shipping-related emissions as motivating factors for starting and continuing their research.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. companies and organizations transport over 9 billion tons of goods each year, and ground freight alone accounts for 20 percent of all energy consumed in the transportation sector, with truck and rail transport consuming 35 billion gallons of diesel fuel each year. “Freight transportation permeates all industries,”¯
Horvath says, “Shipping goods is a part of every supply chain. Calculating the true environmental impact is very important in order to find out the true environmental costs of every other product and many services in our economy.”¯ Facanha agrees, adding, “Freight transportation is responsible for a substantial share of emissions of criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gases, and because the transportation infrastructure (roads, rail yards, ports, airports) tends to be located close to densely populated areas, environmental impacts to local communities can be immense.”¯
In January 2007, Facanha and Horvath joined forces with ShipGreen, (www.shipgreen.net) a carbon offsets company targeting the shipping industry, and used the emission factors they calculated in the course of their research to develop an algorithm to calculate the emissions of individual shipments. The emission factors account for direct emissions from road, rail, and air transportation fuel combustion, as well as for indirect emissions such as those generated by the development of the transportation infrastructure, vehicle manufacturing processes, and fuel pre-combustion processes. The algorithm powers an easy to use web software that online retailers can grab and use on e-commerce sites.
It’s the first time that Facanha and Horvath’s work has been translated into a practical application. It’s the simplicity that consumers respond to. “It’s an easy, instant decision,”¯ explains Scott Settlemyer of financial services firm Terra Carbon, “consumers don’t have to think back later about offsetting a variety of lifestyle choices, they can just click once now and offset this shipment.”¯
The simplicity and more immediate impact of the web software was attractive to Facanha and Horvath as well. “It has the potential to raise awareness about the environmental impacts that freight transportation causes,”¯ Facanha explains. Horvath adds that he hopes the web software will become a tool that online retailers can use to estimate the greenhouse gas impacts of their shipping.
The first retailer to use ShipGreen’s web software to offer customers a shipping offset option, yogamates.com, reports that 74 percent of its customers opted to offset shipping in the first week.