INTERVIEW: Univar Solutions aims to provide carbon footprints for distributed products – exec

Joseph Chang


NEW YORK (ICIS)–US-based chemicals distributor Univar Solutions is working towards providing carbon footprints for the products it distributes to provide transparency to customers and enable them to meet sustainability goals, an executive said.

“Ultimately, we need to meet our customers’ needs, so as we move forward it will be a mixed method approach of working with suppliers to get the most accurate data possible… but also looking at specific product families and product groups where that data is not currently available,” said Liam McCarroll, director of sustainability at Univar Solutions, in an interview with ICIS.

“The conversations are not the same across every industry or with every supplier, but we certainly see much more information than even 24 months ago,” he added.

The carbon footprints of the products Univar sources and distributes are not only part of its own Scope 3 emissions but part of its customers’ Scope 3 emissions.

Scope 1 emissions are those that come directly from operations, Scope 2 from energy purchased and Scope 3 from purchased raw materials, logistics upstream and downstream, waste management and other factors throughout the value chain.

Univar has mapped out Scope 3 emissions for its entire supply chain for the very first time, with results disclosed in its 2021 ESG report released in June 2022.

Of its 10.1m tonnes of CO2 equivalent Scope 3 emissions in 2021, 9.9m tonnes, or 98%, came from purchased goods and services, using a life cycle analysis approach. For Univar to reduce its Scope 3 emissions, collaborating with suppliers will be key.

“I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that with 98% coming from products, it will be largely working with the supply chain, much in the way we do with our Supplier Code of Conduct,” said McCarroll.

Univar Solutions’ Supplier Code of Conduct stipulates that suppliers “actively pursue reduction of direct and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with recognised standards”, among a number of other requirements.

Univar itself aims to reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 20% by 2025, 40% by 2030 and achieve net zero direct emissions by 2050. While no target for Scope 3 emissions has been announced, it is clearly an area of focus.

“[Scope 3] is an exciting area. As that 98% [from products] comes down, the rest of our Scope 3 will of course become more relevant. So we will take a portfolio approach, working with other service providers and looking at our waste and resource use because that all plays back into our Scope 3 emissions,” said McCarroll.

The product carbon footprint side of Scope 3 presents a big challenge as there is often incomplete data as well as data from different methodologies.

“We always prefer primary data… but it’s also about recognising that not all primary data is created the same. We should also be aiming for transparency – understanding methodologies and really working with suppliers and customers to support that transparency,” said McCarroll.

“It’s important to them, as well as important to us. It’s not just about the number – it’s about how that number is achieved,” he added.

Univar will work with suppliers to put forward products that contribute to more sustainable solutions, he noted.

Reducing Scope 3 emissions and helping customers do the same is part of a holistic approach to sustainability.

“Carbon footprint is very important, but we also want to ensure that we are leveraging our portfolio of existing products, services and practices to support our customers’ sustainability journeys, and sustainability is more than just carbon footprinting,” said McCarroll.

“By understanding this product framework, we’re helping specific areas of that customer’s journey. For some customers and suppliers, their priorities differ. We want to be a distributor that is capable and ready to help them on their journey because not everyone’s looks quite the same,” he added.

While Univar is not offering carbon footprints for all the products it distributes, as not every supplier provides that information, it is sharing select data with customers and working towards a standardised approach.

“We have multiple engagements and projects with different customers where we are supplying data but right now it’s part of what we are building out… It’s not part of our standardised offering but what we’re moving towards,” said McCarroll.

Credibility, reliability and transparency of data on carbon footprints is critical.

“One of the most important things is making sure that it’s aligned with a methodology – not just an organisation saying, ‘here’s a number and we don’t want to back it up’,” said McCarroll.

“If we want to bring people on the journey with us, it has to be credible and reliable but there are multiple methods in calculating product carbon footprints. Not all of them will get you the same answer but broadly will take you in the right direction,” he added.

While Univar is not stipulating which particular methodologies should be used, they should be transparent and credible.

“[We want to] make that information as clear and useful as possible to the customer because ultimately, we will use it in our emissions reporting but also want to make sure it doesn’t end there – that we’re able to support the full supply chain,” said McCarroll.

Aside from purchased materials or products, another important part of Scope 3 emissions is in transportation.

On this front, Univar aims to transition its light and heavy fleet of vehicles over time.

“We’re aiming to transition a very significant portion of our light fleet… by 2025, increasing the number of electric vehicles (EVs),” said McCarroll.

Its light fleet includes passenger vehicles for employees, as well as some pickup trucks used for deliveries. The heavy fleet is comprised of trucks used to distribute most of its products.

“Diesel will remain a significant part of [the heavy fleet] but we can do much more with it, so we’re looking at telematics, driving behaviours, eco-training and more streamlined trailers. We also have in the US a number of heavy duty EVs that we’ll be looking to introduce towards the end of this year,” said McCarroll.

In May, Univar saw its first electric truck – the Nikola Tre – roll off Nikola’s assembly line. And in June, Univar successfully completed its pilot programme with the truck along with Nikola’s mobile charging trailer. That truck is now part of Univar’s fleet.

“The initial trail worked well. The drivers were very responsive and as excited about it as we were,” said McCarroll, who also noted that Univar is exploring options with other electric truck manufacturers.

Univar is also looking towards compressed natural gas, biodiesel, fuel additives and hydrogen fuel cells for its heavy fleet.

Interview article by Joseph Chang


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