ASI members will have to reduce GHG emissions; some are already doing better than others

The Aluminium Stewardship Initiative has published its new Standards for the next five years. They commit all members to reduce their GHG emissions at ASI certified sites. Whilst some companies are leading the way with new investments to decarbonise, others have succeeded in maintaining ‘wriggle room’ in the new Standards to give themselves more time. This is resulting in the front runners, in terms of low carbon emissions, pulling away from the others. 

All members must develop and implement a strategy for GHG emissions reductions consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 C by 2030. There are also specific reduction targets for smelters, the most GHG intensive step in aluminium production. The reality for primary aluminium, is that a huge investment in renewable power is needed to decarbonise. 

ASI member Hydro has recently announced a new renewable energy facility in Brazil to enable coal replacement. This is in contrast with other members who are either still running smelters that rely on coal or are buying primary aluminium from such smelters. Coal powered smelters will still be eligible for ASI certification for a few years without having to move to using lower carbon forms of electricity.  True, they will have to achieve some incremental emissions reductions, but these could be achieved at least partly via reducing the carbon intensity of upstream operations including the mining of bauxite.  I have previously commented on this leniency for coal powered smelters when it appeared in the draft Performance Standard.  Moving to renewable energy does not always involve a massive capital outlay. Smelters that rely on grid electricity and are unable to make their own investments in renewable power, can purchase renewable electricity via their suppliers. 

The rationale behind the ASI decision is that they prefer an inclusive approach, which gives all smelters a pathway to make improvements aligned with international targets. This is understandable from an industry driven grouping which seeks to have a broad impact.  But the approach does not take into account the emergence of ASI certified primary aluminium with widely differing carbon intensities.  

ASI members downstream of smelters will also be required to align their operations with a 1.5C warming limit. They will need to know whether they have bought the top tier ASI aluminium, or the stuff linked to coal.  As things stand, they won’t be able to rely on ASI certified products to be low carbon or even to be provided with their carbon intensity. 

We are seeing some ASI members getting ahead by committing to buy low carbon products.  Ball and Novelis are collaborating as part of the First Movers Coalition which is a global initiative ‘harnessing the purchasing power of companies to decarbonize seven hard to abate industrial sectors that currently account for 30 percent of global emissions’.  These sorts of initiatives are very valuable, but the low carbon economy can’t wait for everyone to make bilateral agreements. Carbon footprint data needs to flow down the supply chain so all types and sizes of companies can make climate-friendly choices when they purchase raw materials. 

Generally, sustainability schemes don’t like to distinguish between certified members and their products. So, one reason that ASI isn’t mandating the transfer of carbon footprints down the supply chains, is to avoid highlighting the distinction between the best and the worst carbon footprints. But in the case of aluminium, whose impact on global warming is significant, this attitude must surely change. Carbon footprint information would also increase the utility of the Chain of Custody certification, which is only optional for members.

In a sustainability scheme, the flow of certified material down the supply chain is governed by the Chain of Custody (CoC) Standard.  If certified products are sold to facilities without a CoC certification or without a proof of certification, the material loses its identity and becomes downgraded to conventional, non-certified material. There are signs that ASI could benefit from increased uptake of the CoC Standard.

The International Aluminium Institute, which models flows of ASI aluminium, has indicated that roughly 50% of ASI aluminium ‘disappears’ from the supply chain at each processing stage, for the reasons outlined above. The aim of any sustainability scheme is to ensure that the maximum of certified material, is transmitted down the supply chain to eager buyers. So, ASI will be looking to reduce the percentage of material that loses its ASI identity before it reaches consumers.  

To maximise demand, certified products must have a distinctive identity that sets them apart from non-certified counterparts. Whilst ASI certification means responsibly produced aluminium with high standards of biodiversity, cultural and human rights protection, operators are having to look elsewhere for the guarantee of a low carbon footprint. Some schemes in other sectors have introduced a higher tier of certification to recognise better performing members and increase the profile of their product.  ASI is not going to change in a hurry, but when it comes to saving the planet, the best do deserve more recognition than the rest.

Published: 15 June 22

Back to news list