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One company’s journey to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions

Feb. 1, 2022
Peter Garforth says there’s no secret to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it takes top-to-bottom planning.

The latest shift in energy management toward net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the next two or three decades puts industrial sustainability management as a priority and pathway to success.

This will be no mean feat, and no company has yet found the perfect answer. Toward the end of last year, I talked with the global and North American sustainability leaders from the major Italian tissue paper manufacturer, Sofidel.

Recognizing the climate priority, in 2008 Sofidel joined WWF Climate Savers, committing to establish science-based targets for GHG reduction. In the first decade, the goal to reduce energy-related scope 1 and 2 emissions by 23% was comfortably met. Like all effective industrial programmes, the bar was raised with a 40% reduction target set to be achieved by 2030, approved by the Science Based Targets initiative in 2020.

Early prioritization was put on improving operational energy efficiency, which reduces both scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. An equal short-term priority was on reducing the average GHG content of electricity through renewable electricity contracts and selective local initiatives, significantly cutting scope 2 levels.

In the next phase, they will respond to growing pressure to focus on significantly reducing direct emissions. As all energy intensive industries find, this is a major challenge, especially if the goal is effectively their elimination.

Sofidel, in partnership with a Swedish company, is assessing the feasibility of scaling up cost-effective production of biogas from the various biomass waste streams associated with paper production. The possible use of green hydrogen is on the radar screen, and its use will largely be driven by how its price and availability evolves in various markets.

Depending on the local grid, scope 1 emissions may be reduced by electrification of some fundamental production processes. This has the obvious risk that the future GHG performance shifts into the hands of the local power supplier and their ongoing generation mix decisions.

By joining the WWF Climate Savers initiative, Sofidel committed to pursue science-based targets irrespective of the demands of local regulation. This is an important principle for a global company given the vast spread of climate regulation across the world. It is a sound business risk-mitigation approach given the uncertainty of the scope of future regulation. It also sets the stage for maximizing the different GHG reduction opportunities at each site, while delivering on the overall corporate goals.

Energy Expert

This article is part of our monthly Energy Expert column. Read more from Peter Garforth.

Sofidel’s sustainability management approach recognizes that each site is different, and these differences should be reflected in local energy plans. These include the age of the plant and its efficiency potential; the GHG content and cost of local utilities, carbon pricing and penalties, incentives, and of course, regulation. Local remuneration aligned with local GHG targets is already in place.

Looking at this from the overall corporate view, this creates a portfolio of GHG reduction opportunities, which together must deliver the overall targets. The portfolio perspective will ultimately allow investment decisions to be prioritized to achieve maximum GHG reduction with the least cost and managed risk. While not quite at the level of integrated simulation to support GHG reduction decisions, Sofidel is headed in this direction.

Like many companies, Sofidel’s scope 3 emissions are large, constituting 60% of its total carbon footprint. The bulk of this comes from transporting materials. Again, like many of their peers, this is an area that will gain more attention in the not-too-distant future.

The role of its supply chain on the footprint is also beginning to be actively managed. With an initial focus on pulp suppliers, vendor science-based performance targets are set and incorporated into contractual arrangements. These are scored on a regular basis and vendors failing to meet them are given a reasonable period to turn things around.

This snapshot of one global company’s approach to net-zero GHG manufacturing exemplifies the complexity and multi-dimensional challenge.

Sofidel will be the first to admit there will be many twists in the road, but many opportunities as well. My thanks to its team in allowing me a glimpse into its efforts.

This story originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Peter Garforth

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