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Posts tagged 'carbon emissions'

More jobs, less carbon: why we need landfill bans

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The Green Alliance recently released this report looking at the issue of landfill, capturing some staggering facts and figures. An actionable task list is included and needs to be shared. Many thanks to all involved in creating this great resource.

The UK puts at least £3.8 billion of resources in landfill each year.

More jobs less carbon

Keeping these resources out of landfill would support skilled jobs and cut the UK’s carbon emissions. Remaking old products requires skilled labour for disassembly, fault finding and repair. High quality recycling is a sophisticated industrial process, requiring engineering and technical skills.

Avoiding landfill creates jobs

Selling the products created through reuse, remanufacturing and recycling generates profit, justifying the labour required to process them. In contrast, landfill just has a labour cost. Landfill is easy, but it makes no sense economically. Three actions would secure more skilled jobs and value:

• Landfill bans – to prevent products and materials from being wasted.

• Better collection systems–to keep the quality of materials up.

• New infrastructure – to reprocess and remanufacture Landfill bans help stimulate better collection systems and economies of scale, underpinning infrastructure investment. Scotland, Austria, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and several US states have already introduced them. It is time the UK did too.

How many jobs created

Stop these products

The Green Alliance Trust is a registered charity 1045395 and company limited by guarantee (England & Wales) 3037633.

Notes and references

1 Value of wood, food, textiles, and plastics, from Green Alliance, 2013, Why we need landfill bans, of £2.5 billion plus £1.3 billion in waste electronics from WRAP, 2012, Electrical product material composition.

2 Based on calculations from a wide range of recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse jobs estimates. Full details are available from www.green-alliance.org.uk/morejobs_ sources

3 Committee on Climate Change, 2013, Meeting carbon budgets.

4 Exampleslistedarefromjobswebsiteslistingvacanciesin existing UK recyclers, remanufacturers, and reprocessors at the time of publication.

5 The 4th carbon budget covers a five year period, but landfill emissions are stated per year. To make this comparison, the emissions savings from ending landfilling were applied to each year of the five year budget period and compared to the reduction needed to move from the third budget period to the fourth budget period.

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‘Green levies’ – planned changes to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO)

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Green industry responds to Government announcement on green leviesHere is a communication from the UK Green Building Council detailing the changes, with their response, to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO).

Published by John Alker, Director of Policy & Communications, UK Green Building Council.

“After weeks of speculation and frantic lobbying, this morning DECC has announced proposed changes to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) as part of the Government’s review of ‘green levies’. In a move that will have a major impact on the energy efficiency industry, the carbon saving ambitions of ECO have been scaled back and the scheme will offer significantly less support for solid wall properties. However, there is some more encouraging news with the announcement of new incentives for energy efficiency and the Green Deal.

The current phase of ECO will be extended from two to four years to 2017 and the Carbon Emissions Reduction Obligation element of ECO will be reduced by 33 per cent up to 2017. A minima for Solid Wall installations has been set at 100,000 over the period to 2017, equivalent to 25,000 per year. This is a reduction from the previous estimate of 60,000 per year and significantly down from the 80,000 delivered in 2012. These are worrying changes, particularly for companies involved in the delivery of solid wall insulation. The cost of delivering ECO has been reduced in part by the overall cut to CERO and in part through the introduction of cheaper measures such as lofts and cavities. Needless to say, we fought hard against the cuts, and although it seems of little comfort it really could have been a lot worse had some within the Coalition had their way.

In an effort to offset the reduced carbon savings from ECO, £540m worth of new incentives have also been announced to support energy efficiency and the Green Deal. This includes £450m set aside for what are being called “Stamp Duty rebates” and support for private landlords to improve the worst performing properties in the private rented sector ahead of the introduction of Minimum Energy Performance Standards. Using Stamp Duty to incentivise retrofit is of course something UK-GBC has been campaigning hard for and although this doesn’t implement our recommendations in full, it’s still a step in the right direction – and represents a small, but significant victory. Interestingly, Government also wants to achieve higher carbon savings from schools and hospitals and is increasing its loan scheme for energy efficiency in public buildings.

The devil really is in the detail of the announcements, and we will be impressing upon DECC how important the transition is to the new arrangements, and constructively engaging with Government on the implementation of the incentives package, to really ensure it delivers as best it can. To inform that, we want to hear from you as you absorb the details of the announcement, and what this might mean for your organisation.”

Here is the DECC press release and the response from UK-GBC.

For more via Twitter follow @ukgbc

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The Single Market For Green Products – Facts and figures

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The European Commission has released the following facts and figures from the Single Market for Green Products initiative:

* The global market for low carbon environmental goods and services is estimated at €4.2 trillion. EU companies’ market share is 21% (UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills, 2012).

* Xerox reported savings of $400 million and Zara €500 million in 2009 by designing their products to minimise their life-cycle environmental impact.

* There are currently more than 400 environmental labels worldwide (www.ecolabelindex.com).
For analysis at company level, 80 leading methodologies and initiatives were identified according to which GHG reporting could be carried out (EC study, 2010).

* For product carbon footprinting, 62 leading initiatives and methods were identified (EC study, 2010).

* PUMA has stated that 94% of the environmental impacts of its products occur along the supply chain.

* 90% of consumers buy green products at least sometimes (Eurobarometer).

* 39% of consumers say business claims about the environment are not accurate (GFK, 2011).

* Only 6% of EU citizens trust producers’ claims about their products’ environmental performance completely (Eurobarometer, 2009).

* 94 companies examined used 585 different indicators in environmental reports. Of the indicators disclosed, 22% were used by more than 3 corporations; 55% were used only once (Journal of Cleaner production, 2012).

* Investors are interested: the investors’ base behind the Carbon Disclosure Project grew from 35 investors with assets of 4.5 trillion USD in 2003 to 655 investors with assets of 78 trillion USD in 2012.

* More than 1/3 of 250 business executives said that they could not keep up with consumer demand for sustainable products and services and 62% declared that sustainable investments were motivated by consumer expectations for green products (Accenture, 2012).

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How to revolutionise other industry sectors through a magic metric

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A practical guide for policy-makers. So how do we get beyond the car sector?

Below is a brief guide to creating transformational change within a sector or product category based on the concept of FPT.

1. Do an LCA in order to understand the main environmental impact of that sector or product category (e.g. food, buildings, chemicals, electricity, etc.).

2. Develop a common metric based on the full lifecycle impact or at least on the main impact area.

3. Establish a long-term goal stating what performance is required by when. This can be a fixed value or variable in order to increase competition.

4. Establish minimum performance required and ban underperform- ing products (you might get some World Trade Organization issues but there are always ways around it).

5. Create a system where industries pay penalties for underachieving and/or tax credits for overachieving. That encourages industries to compete and innovate. 6. Mandate visibility of the common metric on all promotional materials.

7. Enable and encourage national taxes, whereby the products with more environmental impact pay more and products with less impact pay less (variable product tax).

8. Enable local regulation that gives ‘incentives’ to products with less impact (e.g. what free parking and free congestion charge is doing for the cars).

9. Support and enable data intermediaries to be creative and do their job to help consumers make sense of the data.

10. Release the power of public procurement and buy only products that achieve certain performance levels.

11. Encourage equally the power of corporate procurement.

12. Award with the EU Ecolabel those products that demonstrate more than 50% impact reductions over the average product.

13. Sit and relax – the market usually delivers (but you need to tell the market what you want).

 

Let’s look at the building sector and try to apply this thinking (in a very simplistic way):

a) Magic metrics could be kWh/m2 and kg of embodied CO2/m2 (I will focus on the first one).

b) Set up a minimum European standard of, let’s say, 100 kWh/m2 for new buildings in 2020.

c) Give the EU Ecolabel to new buildings under, let’s say, 50 kWh/m2.

d) Give tax discounts to new buildings under, let’s say, 50 kWh/m2.

e) Facilitate licences/permits to the super-performing buildings (e.g. fast track or no permit required).

f) Existing houses pay variable rate of stamp duty and local council tax according to their energy rating (would encourage retrofit more radically than green deal type of approaches).

g) Government would commit to the strongest standard for new buildings and would retrofit existing government buildings to a minimum standard.

h) Mandatory energy ratings displayed in every public and private building including offices, retail, etc.

This is a back of the envelope approach that does not take into account the fine details such as the differences in building types such as domestic, office or retail, but it gives an idea of what the magic metric approach can deliver.

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The magic metric that changed the car industry

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What has happened to the car industry using g CO2/km as a metric is a very good example of the depth of transformation that product transparency can deliver. This fascinating metric has enabled European regulators to mandate top-down targets for car companies, enabled customers to have a comparable reference for the car footprint and provide national and local legislators the means to tax what is higher impact and support what is lower.

This transparent metric has also created competition in the car sector with the focus being upon their biggest environmental impact, ‘in life use’, which in turn has created a huge level of innovation in the car industry and supply chain. A decade ago the car industry had no incentive to design cars that would consume any less petrol. It really wasn’t at the core of car manufacturers’ strategy.

The industry used to design cars that were affordable to build but not necessarily always affordable to run. Yet according to European Union (EU) research, passenger cars make up 12% of total EU CO2 emissions. And yet, according to the European Environmental Agency, around 77% of the impact of a passenger car is in the ‘use’ phase with a further 13% directly linked to the production of the fuel consumed in the ‘use’ phase.

Environmental impacts during the lifecycle of a car

SOURCEShttp://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/figures/life-cycle-analysis-of-passenger-cars and http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ipp/pdf/jrc_report.pdf

For this transformational change to take place an overall regulatory framework at EU, national and local level was needed. Furthermore, and crucially, a common industry metric was required that could be used in the car industry. That magic metric was to be tail-pipe (exhaust) emissions measured as grams of CO2 per kilometre driven (g CO2/km). Although incomplete, because it didn’t take into account whole-life CO2 emissions and environmental impacts, this partial transparency at least focused on the biggest issue and has transformed the industry. g CO2/ km has given a purpose to policy-making, often bureaucratic, expensive, ineffective and siloed. Below is an overview of some of the key regulatory interventions this common standardised metric has enabled.

First, the bottom-up approach.

The EU Car Labelling directive was enacted to ensure that a label on fuel economy and CO2 emissions is attached to a car or displayed in a clearly visible manner near each new passenger car model at the point of sale. This bottom-up approach was based on driving transparent competition, which in turn enabled the customer to make an informed decision taking into account the biggest environmental impact of the product. Most customers might still choose a car mainly by the design or the brand but at least they have the right to know the impact of their decisions. What has been the main result of this transparency? It has cut off all the ‘greenwash’. No manufacturer today is doing green marketing on the little things they are doing in their factories or their recyclable seats. Why? Because this wonderful metric is allowing customers to say, ‘please cut the fluff and just tell me the g CO2/km for this car’.

Sustainability commoditized as it should be, like money: terrible news for marketing agencies, great news for the world. The beauty of such a metric goes beyond ‘point of sale’ to ‘all promotional materials’. Thanks to the same directive, today all car advertising must include the g CO2/km for that specific car being advertised. That has created consistency and transparency whilst simultaneously empowering the customer to not only become accustomed to the metric but make critical buying decisions based on this metric. My mother today knows that 160g CO2/km is too much and 100 g CO2/km is acceptable. Many Londoners know cars under 100 g CO2/km don’t pay the congestion charge. Consistent transparency creates customer literacy and awareness which leads to change.

Second, the old-school, top-down approach.

This key metric allowed an EU-wide regulation that came into law in 2009, requiring each manufacturer to decrease their average portfolio of emissions to 130 g CO2/km by 2015 and 95 g CO2/km by 2020. In 2008, the average g CO2/km for car emissions in the UK was 158.0 g CO2/km. In 2009 that figure was 149.5 g CO2/km so the change because of legislation is huge. Look at how effective those ugly technocrats from Brussels have been! How ironic that the UK Climate Change Committee highlights cars as one of the few successes of carbon reductions in the UK. This legislation came about because the EU ran out of patience with industry voluntary agreements.

Yes, those voluntary agreements so loved by politicians because they don’t have to impose any difficult decisions. In 1998, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), JAMA, and KAMA agreed to reduce average CO2 emissions from new cars sold to 140 g/km by 2008. That was a 25% reduction, quite considerable. But predictably when there is no stick or carrot on the table, the car manufacturers’ commitment achieved a mere 2.2% reduction between 1998 and 2006. What would you expect? So the EU set up a mandatory target and crucially gave a sensible period of time (2020) to allow companies to invest, innovate and so make the necessary widespread changes required to meet the targets of this regulatory framework.

It also came with sticks in the form of financial penalties.

Surprise, surprise, it’s working! CO2 emissions from new passenger cars have started decreasing substantially: 1.6% in 2007, 3.2% in 2008 and 5.4% in 2009. That’s the beauty of the market: tell it what you want to achieve and it will find a way to do it. The problem is that on many occasions we don’t tell the market, our supplier, what we want, or worse, we don’t have the metrics. These two combined policies, of setting agreed, clearly measurable targets and making this information clearly visible to the end customer are completely changing the playing field of competition within the car industry. And this competition through innovation will compel manufactures to meet the EU-wide target of 95 g CO2/km by 2020. Car manufacturers are doing what they are best at – designing cars – as opposed to inventing labels, patronising customers with green marketing, ‘engaging’ employees, sustainability reporting and other semi-useless stuff. But our beloved metric goes much further. It can transform national and local policy-making aimed at changing behaviours and purchasing decisions. One example at national level is the French Bonus/Malus scheme. Simply put, customers choosing to buy a heavy polluting car will pay extra tax on the price of the car, whereas customers choosing to buy a more fuel efficient car will receive a reduction in the price of the car. The tax penalty ranges from €200–2600 per car.

The incentive reductions range from €200 to €5000 and higher for even cleaner cars.

Around 31% of new vehicles will be eligible for the bonus, 25% for the malus. There are around 44% of new vehicles currently emitting between 130 and 160 g CO2/km that are not affected by the new measure. Furthermore, the bonus will be deducted from the price paid to the dealer and must be identified and visible on the bill. These facts will also provide incentives to dealers to sell cleaner cars. Another example is UK company cars.

In the UK you pay more tax for your company car if your car produces more CO2. For example, for a car of less than 75 g CO2/km the tax rate for petrol cars is 5%. For a car of 150 g it is 19% and for a car of 235 g it is 35%. This is a good example of variable tax on a clean or dirty product. The more you pollute the more tax you pay. But our magic metric is also very useful at the local level.

In London, cars which emit 100 g/km or less of CO2 and meet the Euro 5 standard for air quality qualify for zero congestion charge. A 100% exemption from congestion charge also applies to electric vehicles. In many towns in the UK such as York, Salford or Milton Keynes and Richmond, one can have discounted residents’ parking if you have a low carbon vehicle and free parking if you have an electric car.

Guess what? Customers are paying attention to the environment! Such a crazy bunch of tree-huggers…

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5. What is an epd?

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt 5 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

‘What is an EPD?’

An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a statement of a product’s ‘ingredients’ and environmental impacts across its lifecycle. In the same way that nutritional labels help consumers compare the health benefits of food items, an EPD enables them to compare the environmental impacts of products.

Why an EPD is not just another eco-label

An EPD is not another eco-label. It is a statement of fact about the environmental impacts of a product. There are no ratings, claims or judgement calls to be made, as there are with eco-labels: an EPD itself doesn’t tell you whether a product is good or bad, green or polluting; it just provides the facts to enable better informed decisions.

In the same way that a chocolate bar with a nutritional label is not necessarily any healthier than a chocolate bar without one, having an EPD does not mean a product is ‘better’ or more sustainable. It does, however, enable customers to compare products and choose the ones that have least impact.

EPDs give you the full picture: for example, data on several environmental impact categories. Your product might be good on global warming potential (e.g. low CO2) but have a high acidification potential (e.g. high SO2) and both parameters have to be reported and not cherry-picked by the company.

How are EPDs created?
The methodology used to obtain an EPD is robust, and the assumptions used in the LCA calculations behind it are standardised. This means that manufacturers cannot manipulate assumptions to favour their own product (by calculating an artificially long life-span, for example). The methodology uses internationally recognised standards; an LCA must be conducted in accordance with ISO 14040 and the EPD must be produced in accordance with ISO 14025. All of this must be verified by an independent third party.

What does an EPD tell you?
A good EPD declaration would disclose the following:

• A list of raw materials and their origin
• A list of chemicals and their origin
• A description of raw material processing and production
• Specifications on the manufacturing of the product, including a breakdown of energy consumption and embodied energy, emissions released, treatment of waste, and packaging and transport
• Information on product use and end of life processing, including treatment of any waste and emissions released
• A table with the LCA results per impact category per lifecycle stage
• Evidence and verification for the calculations. All EPDs need to provide a report showing evidence for verification of the calculations and statements in the EPD

Once all these data about the environmental footprint of the product have been verified by an independent third party auditor, they then need to be captured in a clear and concise declaration.

How EPDs provide full product transparency and why that matters

FPT disclosure based on EPDs empowers and enables all customers, whether they are governments, businesses or consumers, to gain a clear understanding of the total environmental and social impact of a product, including at its end of life.
Providing customers with accurate, impartial third party-certified information about the total footprint of a product allows them to vote through their purchasing decision and to buy the right sustainable product. This will not only have a positive impact on the environment and society but also on competition and innovation. It creates a clearly visible level playing field for companies offering similar products within a sector, and it forces them to compete not only on price and quality but on all aspects that go into the making of a product.

EPDs are inexpensive, contrary to the urban myth

Some people argue that EPDs are very expensive and, especially if you have too many product categories, that it becomes unmanageable. This is like arguing that Unilever or Kraft would find it impossible and very expensive to provide the nutrition facts for all their products, given their product range. Yet they manage.

EPDs are expensive if you don’t do the internal work and you ask a consultant to do all the work for you. You would end up paying from €10,000 to €15,000, which is still much less that what many companies pay for some green labels. To put this into perspective, I have seen companies in the building products sector pay more than €50,000 for various types of green labels and certification schemes of dubious independence and robustness.

Once you invest internally and a small part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability team have the ability to perform LCAs, it becomes very inexpensive and EPDs can be done for less than €1000, sometimes even €500. And the information collected is not only of great use externally but for internal purposes and decision-making, mostly substituting for redundant internal reporting.

Example of information contained in a real EPD

Result of the LCA for Microtuft modular PA 6.6 carpet from InterfaceFlor

 

Next time ‘The Magic Metric That Changed The Car Industry’

… please revisit regularly for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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An Interview with Michele Galatola – ‘EU Environmental Footprinting’

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Michele Galatola from DG Environment at the European Commission provides an overview on the rationale of the EU environmental footprinting methodology.

In this short video he describes the addressed audience and possible fields of application of the methodology.

Furthermore Michele Galatola shares insights on the role of environmental footprinting in future EU policy.

From the PCF World Forum, Sep 2012 (Published Nov 2012) –

Renewable Resources in the Value Chain. A Viable Option for Reducing Environmental Footprints?”

About the PCF World Forum

Consumption of goods and services indirectly contributes to a large share of worldwide GHG emissions. Efforts are underway to better understand, manage and reduce these emissions. Standards and tools for carbon footprinting as well as more comprehensive environmental and sustainability metrics are developed, refined and practically tested.

The Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) World Forum is a neutral platform to share practical experiences and knowledge towards climate-conscious consumption and production. The international platform provides orientation in current standardisation processes and creates opportunities for discussing international corporate best practices and emerging tools to support low carbon and climate-conscious consumption models.

The PCF World Forum was created out of the ambition to talk with each other and not just about each other given the ever increasing number of initiatives around the world and often little real understanding of respective approaches and activities.

PCF World Forum is an initiative by Berlin based think-do-tank THEMA1.

www.pcf-world-forum.org

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3. What is Full Product Transparency and How Do You Go About It?

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Excerpt 3 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

What are FPT, LCAs and EPDs? FPT IS HAVING, AND PROVIDING, a complete picture of the total environmental impact of a product throughout its life. The emphasis here is on environmental impact, because the methodology for calculating this, based on a lifecycle assessment, is much more established. It is also easier to gauge environmental impacts because most of these can be measured in a quantitative way. Give us a number of years and we will be starting to integrate better quantitative metrics for social issues, most probably sector by sector.

What do we mean by each word: Full, Product and Transparency?

Full means full disclosure, full range of products and full scope. That means that all the environmental impacts and ‘ingredients’ of a product should be disclosed. That includes materials, chemicals, installation or use methods, and of course, the combined impacts on the environment, which is the bottom line. Full product lifecycle scope is about taking accountability for all the lifecycle stages of a product made or marketed by an organisation.

The ‘product’ means focusing on products as opposed to direct company impacts. Instead of just being accountable for the direct impacts of an organisation, note that we are talking about the product and not the corporate entity. The idea is to get the mindset shifting so that organisations not only manage their impacts but manage the impacts of their products. But by ‘product’ we also mean product in the wider sense, so it could be a service rather than an actual, physical item.

The concept of FPT can be applied just as much to an internet search or a night in a hotel as much as to a t-shirt or a television. Transparency means disclosing product by product, all the ingredients and chemicals, describing the methods of production, disclosing the assumptions and following international standards and product category rules.

What is lifecycle analysis?

Lifecycle analysis (LCA, also known as lifecycle assessment) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life.

These are:

• Raw materials, extraction, processing and transport

• Manufacturing • Delivery and installation

• Customer use

• End of life (including impacts from disposal or recycling)

Lifecycle Analysis - Sustainability

LCA does not consider one single environmental impact such as carbon. It considers the most significant impacts on the environment for the system studied. These are commonly measured by quantifying the impact relative to the release in kg of the most significant molecular contributor to the impact.

Examples of categories of impacts used in LCA

2 Examples of categories of impacts used in LCA

SOURCE: Interface, Just the Facts Guide For more information see the European Joint Research Centre document. 

FIGURE 4. Example of categories of impacts in coal fired electricity generation SOURCE: Graph courtesy of Jane Anderson, PE International.

FIGURE 4. Example of categories of impacts in coal fired electricity generation

… please revisit regularly for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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2. It’s All About Products, Not companies

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt 2 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

If you read corporate sustainability reports, you’ll find that most companies still focus primarily on the environmental performance of their own operations. Yet for many businesses this focus is mismatched with their true impacts, which lie outside their operations and fall instead within the lifecycle of their products.

When you view a company in terms of the products it makes – as opposed to its offices and employees – you soon discover that the vast majority of environmental impacts occur outside its operational boundaries. In many cases the impacts associated with raw materials extraction and processing, product use and end life far outstrip any ‘in-house’ impacts.

Most of the impacts are outside companies’ boundaries

For Interface’s carpet tiles, for example, around 68% of the impact is associated with the production of raw materials, while only around 10% can be attributed to in-house operations. For companies that make energy-guzzling machines, by far the biggest impact is during the product use phase. This is counterintuitive for many people, because the most visible parts of a company’s operations are either their glitzy office headquarters or their smoke-belching factories.

Sometimes the figures can be quite spectacular. For a consumer goods company such as Unilever, around 95% of a product’s impacts typically come from outside the company’s own operations (see figure below).

Unilver Product Impacts

Tesco, a UK supermarket, says its direct carbon footprint in the UK is 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Yet the impact of its supply chain, which makes the products that go into its shops, is 26 million tonnes of CO2 – ten times Tesco’s own footprint. And the footprint of its customers using Tesco’s products is even greater: 228 million tonnes of CO2, which is not far off 100 times the supermarket chain’s own footprint.

Apple Environmental Footprint

Only 2% of Apple’s carbon footprint comes directly from its offices and facilities, while around 61% comes from outsourced manufacturing and raw materials, and 30% from the product when it is being used by the consumer.

The impact of ‘stuff’ is usually in the supply chain

When a lifecycle assessment is carried out on a physical product such as a carpet, or a t-shirt, or some ready-mixed concrete, it usually shows that the biggest impacts are in the supply chain, and are therefore already embedded in the product before they get to the company for the final manufacturing process. The biggest environmental impacts up to this point are usually associated with the types of raw materials being used, as well as the types of chemicals used to process these raw materials.

Outsourcing has made things worse

With the advent of outsourcing over the past 20 years, we now have many brands that consist essentially of a marketing department, some finance people, HR and legal units, and a product design team. The actual manufacturing of the product happens halfway across the world in nations such as China, India, Turkey or Brazil, because it’s cheaper to manufacture in such places rather than in Europe or the US. This explains why so many lifecycle analyses of products show an increasing percentage of the impacts taking place outside the operations of a company.

The mismatch in management: 80% of management on direct impacts

So the bottom line is that the seemingly impressive corporate responsibility programmes and targets of many companies are in fact generally confined to minor issues, often down to the paltry level of office paper or electricity. These misinformed programmes take the attention and focus away from major issues such as raw materials use, in life product energy usage, toxic chemicals use and end of life disposal/reuse. These are the main impacts of a company that makes products, not their office lighting. The legendary green advocate Jim Fava, from Five Winds/PE International, made this crude point in a Green Mondays event in June 2011: he pointed out that 80% of sustainability management tools focus upon only 20% of the actual environmental impacts.

The key to sustainability lies in product design

The key to radical change, then, is through product design. If the impact is mainly in the raw materials, then by redesigning its products a company can use fewer raw materials, or use alternatives to them. If a product is a machine that consumes energy such as a car or a vacuum cleaner, then the key is in designing a product that is more energy efficient. And it’s not just physical design that can make a difference: the business model and commercialisation strategy can have a significant influence too.

People buy products, not companies!

One of the things we need to do is to get away from comparing companies so much. After all, people buy products, not companies. It is products and services that have an impact on our lives, so that’s what we should be measuring and trying to make more sustainable. Who cares whether Renault or BMW have more factories with ISO 14001, better corporate greenhouse gas reductions or have more environmental policies? We should be thinking about the impact of the cars they produce.

It’s worth stating again: people buy products, not companies. We need information to decide which product is better. Buyers need that information at point of sale, and in advertisements, so that we can make an informed choice. So why are companies so busy producing corporate reports instead of product information?

Leading companies are embracing LCA as a central design strategy

Unilever is measuring the impact of all its products and brands in all countries on a ‘per consumer use’ basis. So 70% of its products worldwide are now analysed from this detailed perspective, with the focus being on a single serving – a portion, or the typical use of a product such as tea, ice cream, shampoo or washing detergent by the end customer. The metrics it uses are greenhouse gas per consumer use, water, packing and waste per consumer use, as well as sustainably sourced materials. You can argue whether maintaining the impact while doubling sales is ambitious enough (Unilever’s sustainable living plan) but at least they are focusing on the right metrics and right scope: products.

Likewise, Boots, a pharmacy-led retailer, has developed a product sustainability assessment model that analyses 23 critical areas across the lifecycle of the product. These areas focus on the design, creation, transport, use and disposal or recycling of its products. Targets are set to drive innovation and improve the footprint per product and brand.

But still these strategies are far away from FPT

None of these examples are truly the FPT I’m about to advocate in later chapters but we can see some companies are getting closer and closer. For example, Unilever has a target to double sales and maintain its combined product carbon footprint. Yes, it’s just a factor 2 target which is not very ambitious, though they are starting to look at the right scope: full lifecycle products. Also, the Unilever target is combined product, and up to now they haven’t committed to publish Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) by each product (or product categories). The FPT that I’m advocating requires you to disclose the true, full impacts of all your products.

… please revisit regularly for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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‘Full Product Transparency’ – About The Publisher

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DoShorts - Sustainability Publisher

As some of you know, I have written a book titled ‘Full Product Transparency‘ published by Dō Sustainability.

Dō Sustainability is the publisher of DōShorts: short, high-value ebooks that distil sustainability best practice and business insights for busy, results-driven professionals. Each DōShort can be read in 90 minutes.

What are DōShorts?

Books to bridge the ever-expanding black hole between data and doing. DōShorts are a new series of concise, high-quality e-books for busy professionals. They address one sustainability challenge at a time and can be read in 90 minutes. We aim to make those 90 minutes your most valuable that week, or month, and to deliver benefits on a par with an expert seminar or masterclass.

The series includes practical ‘how to’ guides as well as framework pieces and business briefings that give busy professionals an in-depth overview of cutting edge developments in a range of fields.

Millions of people will be introducing sustainability goals into their work over the next few years, or scaling up existing initiatives. Too much information can be part of the problem.

Our aim is to provide a source of inspiring, trusted and up-to-date information that distils the best available insights, expertise and experience, counteracts information overload, and cuts out the noise.

As the publishing programme grows, we aim to provide professionals with the confidence, inspiration and techniques they need at every stage of their careers.

About the book

In business, the past ten years have been the decade of ‘corporate responsibility’. Thousands of companies have shown unprecedented levels of interest in managing their environmental and social impacts, leading to a huge supporting industry of sustainability professionals, lorry loads of corporate reports, and a plethora of green labels and marketing claims.

Ramon Arratia argues that we need to cut out all the fluff and transform this new industry and profession to focus instead on full product transparency (FPT). In the world of FPT, all companies carry out lifecycle analyses of their products and services, identifying with precision the areas where they have the biggest impacts and where they can make the greatest difference. They then disclose the full environmental impacts of their products using easily understood metrics, allowing customers to make meaningful comparisons in their purchasing decisions and providing governments with a platform to reward products and services with the lowest impacts.

This book explains how a new world based on lifecycle analyses (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs) can take us away from the past decade of corporate responsibility fluff and towards a more practical era where companies make real social and environmental gains that are based on hard facts.

Full Product Transparency

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