All You Need to Know About the Product Carbon Footprint

Do products have a carbon footprint? And what amount of greenhouse gases are connected with it during its life-cycle? In order to gain an insight into product-related emissions, the Product Carbon Footprint can serve as a useful tool for businesses by conducting a life-cycle assessment at a product level. 

What is a Product Carbon Footprint?

The Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) is becoming increasingly important in the prevailing climate debate, as the demand from consumers and subcontractors for climate-friendly products is growing. This demand is creating pressure to increase the transparency of product emissions. In order to record these in a transparent manner, PCFs are created, which record the total carbon emissions of a product over its life cycle. This means that the analysis not only covers the product itself, but also takes into account additional factors such as the supply chain, logistics, internal production, usage phase and disposal of a product. 

How do you calculate the carbon footprint of a product?

The calculation for creating a Product Carbon Footprint is unified by various standards, such as ISO 14067, GHG Protocol and PAS 2050. In general, the creation of a Product Carbon Footprint is divided into 4 steps:

  1. Definition of the goal and scope of the analysis

The first step is to briefly define what is to be achieved by creating the Product Carbon Footprint. The respective goal of the analysis has a considerable influence on the level of detail and scope of the analysis. If, for example, two similar products are to be compared with each other, those aspects of the product life cycle in particular that differ should be considered in detail. If, on the other hand, the aim is to optimise the emissions of the product, those aspects that can be easily influenced or have a high expected share in the emissions should be prioritised. As a result, there is more freedom in defining the scope of a Product Carbon Footprint than a Corporate Carbon Footprint.

Usually, a distinction is made between the cradle-to-grave approach and the cradle-to-gate approach. The cradle-to-grave approach considers the complete life cycle of the product from raw material production, production, delivery, use to disposal. In the cradle-to-gate approach, only the processes up to delivery are considered.

  1. Creation of the Life Cycle Inventory of the product

In this phase, the inputs and outputs of all processes that take place over the life cycle of the product are analysed. Inputs here are usually raw materials, preliminary products, auxiliary materials and energy. Outputs are products or intermediate products, waste and emissions. In the case of intermediate products, the inventory is also extended to their manufacturer. This phase is usually the most costly part of a Product Carbon Footprint calculation, as all processes related to the product have to be analysed and modelled in detail.

  1. Impact assessment of the Life Cycle Inventory

After completion of the Life Cycle Inventory, the inputs and outputs determined in it are evaluated with emission factors, e.g. to convert the various chemical emissions into uniform and comparable figures such as carbon equivalents.

  1. Interpretation of the results

In the last step, the results of the impact assessment are processed and interpreted in relation to the defined goal of the analysis. Usually this results in concrete findings, such as a benchmark of different products or optimisation potentials of a product.

With the Product Carbon Footprint method, it is possible to identify and evaluate the greenhouse gases that are produced during all or part of the life cycle of a product, depending on the calculation approach and the scope of the analysis. This makes it possible to identify the main sources of emissions in a product, which in turn shows the potential for optimisation and avoidance. In the Product Carbon Footprint, the emissions per unit of a product are determined.

On the basis of the transparency achieved with the Product Carbon Footprint, it is possible to produce “carbon neutral” products by reducing emissions along the value chain and purchasing offset certificates for unavoidable emissions. This can become a decisive differentiating factor compared to competitors, especially for companies with direct access to end customers.

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