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Conceptualising environmental responsibility


  • Lenzen, Manfred
  • Murray, Joy


Downstream responsibility is rarely addressed in the academic literature and in corporate sustainability reporting. We conceptualise downstream responsibility for the example of carbon emissions, by establishing a terminology as well as a framework for quantifying downstream carbon footprints. By extracting emissions-intensive sales chains for a number of Australian industry sectors, and comparing these to emissions-intensive supply chains, we demonstrated the ability of input-output analysis to quantify emissions responsibility in both directions. We extend the definition of downstream responsibility beyond the product use and disposal phases, to include what we call "enabled" emissions. This term implies that whatever is sold downstream enables our customers to operate and emit, irrespective of whether it is our product that is combusted, or that directly combusts fuels, or not. Our structural path analyses and threshold-capture relationships reveal stark differences between industries with regard to the data collection efforts necessary to achieve a reasonably complete footprint assessment. Industries appear to have their own specific carbon footprint profiles, and one cannot design generic relevance tests that tell which data to collect. Moreover we conclude that current completeness standards in carbon reporting cannot be satisfied using relevance thresholds. Input-output analysis and structural path analysis are excellent tools that can help companies undertake screening exercises, which in turn help prioritising and streamlining the collection of data needed to establish a corporate downstream carbon footprint. Compared to conventional manual approaches, hybrid life-cycle assessments assisted by input-output analysis and structural path analysis achieve more complete results, with substantially less staff, money and time.

Suggested Citation

  • Lenzen, Manfred & Murray, Joy, 2010. "Conceptualising environmental responsibility," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 261-270, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:70:y:2010:i:2:p:261-270

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rodrigues, Joao & Domingos, Tiago & Giljum, Stefan & Schneider, Francois, 2006. "Designing an indicator of environmental responsibility," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(3), pages 256-266, September.
    2. Lenzen, Manfred & Murray, Joy & Sack, Fabian & Wiedmann, Thomas, 2007. "Shared producer and consumer responsibility -- Theory and practice," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 27-42, February.
    3. Peters, Glen P., 2008. "From production-based to consumption-based national emission inventories," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 13-23, March.
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    5. Lenzen, Manfred, 2007. "Aggregation (in-)variance of shared responsibility: A case study of Australia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 19-24, October.
    6. Andrew, Robbie & Forgie, Vicky, 2008. "A three-perspective view of greenhouse gas emission responsibilities in New Zealand," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1-2), pages 194-204, December.
    7. Thomas Wiedmann, 2009. "Editorial: Carbon Footprint And Input-Output Analysis - An Introduction," Economic Systems Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(3), pages 175-186.
    8. Rodrigues, João & Domingos, Tiago, 2008. "Consumer and producer environmental responsibility: Comparing two approaches," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(2-3), pages 533-546, June.
    9. Y. Anny Huang & Manfred Lenzen & Christopher Weber & Joy Murray & H. Scott Matthews, 2009. "The Role Of Input-Output Analysis For The Screening Of Corporate Carbon Footprints," Economic Systems Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(3), pages 217-242.
    10. Shrestha, Ram M. & Timilsina, Govinda R., 2002. "The additionality criterion for identifying clean development mechanism projects under the Kyoto Protocol," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 73-79, January.
    11. Glen Peters & Edgar Hertwich, 2006. "Structural analysis of international trade: Environmental impacts of Norway," Economic Systems Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(2), pages 155-181.
    12. Lenzen, Manfred, 2008. "Consumer and producer environmental responsibility: A reply," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(2-3), pages 547-550, June.
    13. Munksgaard, Jesper & Pedersen, Klaus Alsted, 2001. "CO2 accounts for open economies: producer or consumer responsibility?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 327-334, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Llop, Maria & Ponce-Alifonso, Xavier, 2015. "Identifying the role of final consumption in structural path analysis: An application to water uses," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 203-210.
    2. Ala-Mantila, Sanna & Heinonen, Jukka & Junnila, Seppo, 2014. "Relationship between urbanization, direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, and expenditures: A multivariate analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 129-139.
    3. Zhang, Youguo, 2013. "The responsibility for carbon emissions and carbon efficiency at the sectoral level: Evidence from China," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 967-975.
    4. repec:eee:rensus:v:78:y:2017:i:c:p:996-1006 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Marques, Alexandra & Rodrigues, João & Lenzen, Manfred & Domingos, Tiago, 2012. "Income-based environmental responsibility," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 57-65.
    6. repec:spr:jecstr:v:6:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1186_s40008-017-0089-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Tolga Kaya, 2017. "Unraveling the Energy use Network of Construction Sector in Turkey using Structural Path Analysis," International Journal of Energy Economics and Policy, Econjournals, vol. 7(1), pages 31-43.
    8. Zhang, Youguo, 2015. "Provincial responsibility for carbon emissions in China under different principles," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 142-153.
    9. Armando Caldeira-Pires & Sandra Maria da Luz & Silvia Palma-Rojas & Thiago Oliveira Rodrigues & Vanessa Chaves Silverio & Frederico Vilela & Paulo Cesar Barbosa & Ana Maria Alves, 2013. "Sustainability of the Biorefinery Industry for Fuel Production," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(1), pages 1-22, January.
    10. Marques, Alexandra & Rodrigues, João & Domingos, Tiago, 2013. "International trade and the geographical separation between income and enabled carbon emissions," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 162-169.
    11. Christian Lininger, 2013. "Consumption-Based Approaches in International Climate Policy: An Analytical Evaluation of the Implications for Cost-Effectiveness, Carbon Leakage, and the International Income Distribution," Graz Economics Papers 2013-03, University of Graz, Department of Economics.
    12. Mateo Cordier & Thomas Poitelon & Walter Hecq, 2018. "Developing a shared environmental responsibility principle for distributing cost of restoring marine habitats destroyed by industrial harbors," Working Papers CEB 18-008, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.


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