How much does the environment 'like' this product? PepsiCo's new footprinting tool makes educated guess

The giant food and beverage company is using the same predictive analytics techniques used by companies like Facebook or Netflex to more quickly assess carbon emissions down to the product level.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Pretty much everyone agrees the best way to address corporate carbon emissions starts with measuring them. Trouble is, there haven't been many ways for big companies – especially those with dozens if not hundreds of products and operations around the world -- to do this quickly.

That was one of things that motivated PepsiCo to team up with the Columbia University Earth Institute to come up with a better way of doing this.

The result is new software that borrows the same analytics and techniques that big Internet companies like Facebook or Netflix use to predict and make content suggestions -- such as movies you might like to see based on past ones you've viewed or advertisements that might be relevant given past Web browsing habits.

Together, Earth Institute's Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and PepsiCo have created a massive database that generates environmental footprints quickly for more than 1,100 products.

The idea is to help companies like PepsiCo identify hot spots where more attention is needed. This, in turn, helps them prioritize on addressing those that might be having a more negative effect on the environment.

"For an environmental engineer, using such data to estimate how much the environment will 'like' certain products and services is especially rewarding," said Christoph Meinrenken, the project leader and an associate research scientist at the Earth Institute.

Added Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center:

"Fast carbon footprinting is a great example of how academic methodologies [coupled] with modern data processing and statistical tools can be brought to life and unlock their power in the real world."

The same ideas will be applied in the future to calculating water impact.  

For more about the methodology behind the PepsiCo project with Earth Institute.

(Thumbnail image by Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

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