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How Effective Is P&G's Commitment To Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions? 2 Professors Weigh In

FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2010 file photo, the Procter & Gamble Co. headquarters building is shown in Cincinnati. Procter & Gamble Co., the world's largest consumer products maker, said Thursday, March 24, 2011, it is teaming up with the world's largest generic drug maker to expand the global reach of over-the-counter brands such as Vicks and Pepto-Bismol. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
The Procter & Gamble Co. headquarters building in Cincinnati.

Procter & Gamble announced last week its efforts to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, pointing toward public awareness efforts and scientific research to lead the way. But how much of that commitment could actually make a difference in the mammoth company's global stretch? Two University of Cincinnati professors applaud the company's effort to acknowledge the serious effects of climate exchange. But they're skeptical about the details.

Amy Townsend, associate professor of environmental science at the University of Cincinnati, said so many of P&G's products are made of paper — toilet paper, Pampers, paper towels — it's hard to imagine how it's going to find alternatives.

"One thing, obviously, that P&G has been criticized for is deforestation … So in order to make up the difference for cutting down old growth trees, you have to replant a forest that you somehow can guarantee is never going to be cut down or burned," she said. "And that's extremely difficult because, how do you do that?"

P&G said in a news release it would make changes throughout the company, from its supply chain, to manufacturing, to raw materials.

In its report, it said it's already cut absolute emissions by more than half over the last 10 years through energy efficiency and renewable electricity efforts. In an effort to make a difference this decade, P&G says by 2030, it hopes to reduce emissions across operations by another 50% and reduce greenhouse gases generated through its supply chain by 40%.

Butthe company said in the news release it is partially hoping science will meet its need before their deadline is up, acknowledging some technology they're leaning on doesn't even exist yet.

"They do have something in here about exploring ingredients made from captured CO2 and that is a technology that's essentially non-existent," Townsend said. "That's something that would take a lot of energy, which for now comes predominantly from fossil fuels. So I would say reducing and making reusable materials would be a better way to go."

Associate Professor Bob Hyland agrees the announcement should be met with a level of skepticism, saying the first red flag for him is seeing the company submitted its plans to the Science Based Targets initiative, which is funded through organizations with conflicts of interest, like The Rockefeller Foundation.

"Other funders of the SBTI are big car companies, the world's leading steel manufacturer, the UPS foundation. So there's inherent conflicts of interest, I think, in using that group as the front for their science-based approach to getting to what they're calling net zero."

Hyland is not an expert in net zero science, but says the process generally works like this: Companies switch to renewable or zero emission energy sources through maintaining and growing forests that can sequester carbon, for instance, along with other approaches.

The problem with that process is, though well intentioned, it takes time to achieve and can be hard to track what exactly those offsets are, he says.

A more impactful strategy, he says, would be for P&G to commit to working with non-partial scientists to find ways to work toward zero greenhouse gas emissions. And it's not too late for them to change course and do so.

"If I was driving in a car toward a brick wall at high speeds, I don't think it would ever cross my mind that it's too late to hit the brakes," he said. "I would do everything I could to stop my vehicle from hitting the brick wall. So I don't think it's too late. I think it's tragic that the corporate culture has waited this long to try and become leaders, but I don't think it's too late."

Townsend suggests a step further, which is the company has the obligation to throw its massive influence around to effect environmental policies globally.

"They need to use their political power. They have lobbyists that have a lot of influence on our government and world governments," she said. "This is a company that operates in many other countries. They have factories in other countries. So I think that they should be putting pressure on the government to enact regulations on greenhouse gas emissions."

To read the entirety of P&G's plans for greenhouse gas emissions,visit their website.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.