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Brands: Tell us the real environmental impacts of your products

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To all companies who want to sell me their products:

I do not want to be told that a product is net positive, carbon neutral, saves the earth, or has this or that label. I don’t want to hear about green claims and marketing spin. Most of this is simply fluff. Just give me the facts. What I want to know is the real impact that your product has on this planet across its whole life cycle.

Tell me about:

GWP: Global warming potential [kgCO2-Eq.]
What is the contribution of your product to global warming? In other words, how much is your product contributing to the climate changing and becoming stranger every day? This is measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent. So I want to know how many tonnes of CO2 equivalent are emitted as a result of obtaining all the raw materials to make your product, all the energy to process them, manufacture and transport your product, to use and maintain your product, and to dismantle and recycle your product properly.

ODP: Depletion potential of the stratospheric ozone layer [kgCFC11-Eq.]
The stratospheric ozone layer shields the earth from ultraviolet radiation harmful to life. How much is your product responsible for depleting this ozone layer? This is measured in the equivalents of kg of CFC11, a chemical that destroys the ozone layer. The potential of 1kg of a brominated substance can me much worse, typically between 5 and 15, while HCFCs have ODPs mostly in range 0.005 – 0.2 due to the presence of the hydrogen.

AP: Acidification potential of land and water [kgSO2-Eq.]
Acid gases are taken up by atmospheric precipitations and the falling “acid rain” forms an acid input which is absorbed by plants, soil and surface waters leading to leaf damage and super-acidity of the soil, which in turn affects availability of plant nutrients and trace elements that plants can absorb. What is the acidifying effect of the substances used or released in any part of your product’s life cycle? In other words, what is their acid formation potential (ability to form H+ ions) compared with sulphur dioxide (SO2)? For example 1kg of NO2 has the 0.70 the potential of 1kg of SO2 while 1 kg H2S has 1.88 kg eq SO2.

EP: Eutrophication potential [kgPO43–Eq.]
Too many nutrients going into watercourses can cause excessive growth of weeds, free-floating plant organisms and other plants in rivers and lakes. This means the oxygen dissolved in deep water is consumed faster and can lead to serious damage to the population of fish and other species. What is your product’s eutrophication potential compared with 1kg of phosphate?

POCP: Formation potential of tropospheric ozone photochemical oxidants [kg EthenEq.]
Despite playing a protective role in the stratosphere, at ground-level ozone is classified as a damaging trace gas and, in high concentrations, ozone is toxic to humans. In life cycle assessments, photochemical ozone creation potential (POCP) is referred to in ethylene-equivalents (C2H4-Äq.)

Abiotic depletion for fossil and non-fossil resources [MJ] [kg SbEq]
How much of the earth’s limited natural resources is your product taking? How much fossil resource (measured in MJ)? And how much other resource like metals and rare earths (measured in kg of antimony equivalent)?

So please cut the fluff, change your marketing agency or sack your sustainability communication consultant and invest this money into obtaining a proper Environmental Product Declaration. That’s what I want. Just the facts.

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  1. June 16, 2013
    Hugo Skoppek said...

    It sounds like you are introducing a new MSDS (Material SUSTAINABILITY Data Sheet). I commend you on the leadership which Interface is taking here.
    What I am not clear about is the type of life cycle assessment you are requesting. To my knowledge most LCA’s are related to a product category, i.e. nylon, but not the specific nylon from company abc vs xyz. Has this changed recently?

    • June 17, 2013
      Ramon Arratia said...

      Hi Hugo, you can do an EPD for a material (eg nylon), for a product (eg carpet) and for a system (eg. building). In Europe things have been standardised with the norm EN15804

  2. June 19, 2013
    Ondrej Sramek said...

    Haha, Ramon! “So please cut the fluff, change your marketing agency or sack your sustainability communication consultant and invest this money into obtaining a proper Environmental Product Declaration. That’s what I want. Just the facts.” love it!

  3. December 9, 2013
    Linza said...

    I’d be content with just the four Impact2002+ endpoint categories, really.

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