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Posts tagged 'Energy Consumption'

How can anyone buy green if they have no clue on how to choose?

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Imagine you are the person making public procurement decisions in a local council or a university.

You are more than willing to buy green, and are being encouraged by your superiors to do so. But none of the suppliers are giving you full transparency on the environmental impacts of the products you would like to buy. They are all providing you with biased information, funny labels and some half-truths.

Perhaps the EU has some guidance? But you discover how little help the EU offers. All you can find are vague phrases saying that procurement teams should ‘take into account energy consumption and emissions’ or that they should consult the TC/CEN 350 standard – or that they should follow the self-serving advice of choosing products with an EU Ecolabel.

Wouldn’t it be easier for the EU just to say something like ‘choose cars with less than 120g CO2/km’? Everybody understands that metric, all manufacturers now provide it, and it’s an easy piece of advice on which to base decisions.

That’s the beauty of FPT.

Full Product Transparency helps people to make decisions based on easily understandable magic metrics rather than requiring purchasers to have PhDs in environmental science in order to buy a piece of furniture for the office.

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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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PEF Policy Conference – 29-30 April – Berlin

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Join us at the PEF Policy Conference where they will release details on the upcoming pilot phase on the development and testing of Product and Organisational Environmental Footprinting Category Rules, benchmarks and communication vehicles.

Rana Pant from the European Commission Joint Research Center will be available to assist Michele Galatola from DG Environment on the technical aspects of the pilot phase. An updated programme for the event will be posted tomorrow here.

The PEF Policy Conference will be held on 29-30 April 2013 in Berlin. Objectives include; developing an early understanding of open questions, next steps and perspectives from different stakeholders on the future use of the detailed product environmental footprinting methodology and respective policy options. All participants are invited to actively contribute to the open dialogue to sharpen the common understanding of the road ahead.

Please click on the image below to find out all about the PCF World Forum including the program of events for this coming week.

Product Environmental  Footprinting (PEF)

Registration is still available via online or Fax Form

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Helping companies and consumers navigate the green maze

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The European Commission has released a fantastic initiative around the subject of ‘Building the Single Market for Green Products’. Helping companies and consumers navigate the green maze.

What is the problem for companies?

A company wishing to market its product as green in several Member State markets faces a confusing range of methods and initiatives. Let alone the hundreds of certification sharks, private labels and incumbent national systems that make a huge amount of money from this.

What is the problem for ‘Mum’ in the supermarket?

Consumers are also confused by the stream of incomparable and diverse environmental information: according to a recent Eurobarometer, 48 % of European consumers are confused by the stream of environmental information they receive. This also affects their readiness to make green purchases.

In the words of Commissioner Potocnik

“To boost sustainable growth, we need to make sure that the most resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly products on the market are known and recognisable. By giving people reliable and comparable information about the environmental impacts and credentials of products and organisations, we enable them to choose. And by helping companies to align their methods we cut their costs and administrative burdens.”

The commission has issued strong guidance on product footprinting as well as organisation footprinting. I will be commenting on these documents in the future.

The EC is launching a three-year pilot phase. Their objectives:

* Set up and validate the process of the development of product group-specific rules (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules – PEFCRs), including the development of performance benchmarks. Where product group-specific rules already exist and are used by stakeholders, the Commission will use these as a basis for the development of the PEFCRs;

* Make the application of the environmental footprint methods easier, especially for SMEs, by testing innovative ways of managing the process and through the development of tools;

* Test different compliance and verification systems, in order to set up and validate proportionate, effective and efficient compliance and verification systems;

* Test different business-to-business and business-to-consumer communication vehicles for PEF information in collaboration with stakeholders.

I hope businesses will jump at these pilots to achieve our dream of open standards and push for full product transparency in the market without delay.

 

Links

Original press release

Draft Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Building the Single Market for Green Products – Facilitating better information on the environmental performance of products and organisations (April 2013)

Draft Commission Recommendation on The use of common methods to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organisations (April 2013)

Annex II of the Recommendation: Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Guide (April 2013)

Annex III of the Recommendation: Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) Guide (April 2013)

For more information contact: 

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93) and Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)

 

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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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“Twenty years on, corporate sustainability still lacking”

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Robert Kropp wrote this article which was published on SocialFunds and then GreenBiz earlier this month. It’s a fascinating read and I’ve included the oekom research report below.

” After 20 years of rating corporate sustainability efforts, German-based oekom research has found that global giants have not been doing nearly enough in their commitments to sustainability. In its most recent annual report, oekom found that only one in six — 16.7 percent — of the companies rated has a “good” level of commitment.

That so few companies are performing at all well — none has been accorded oekom’s highest rating — is especially sobering given that 62 percent of companies now report that they pursue sustainability strategies, and almost two-thirds of those that do state that doing so has been profitable for them.

The industry sector with the highest sustainability performance rating was paper and forest, but that sector’s rating was only 47.7 out of a possible 100.

“The very industry which, more than any other, stands for sustainable management has thus failed to achieve even half of the maximum possible score,” Matthias Bönning of oekom said in a statement.

The only other sectors achieving even a rating of 40 were household products and automobile. The worst performing sectors were real estate and oil and gas — “sectors which have a key role to play in overcoming the major challenges of sustainability,” the report states. Insurance and commercial banks, both of which will play important financial roles in achieving sustainability, performed poorly as well. Not one of the 20 companies designated as best performers in the industry sectors is headquartered in the U.S. Seven are based in the U.K. and the vast majority of the rest are elsewhere in Europe. ”The quality of sustainability management in North America and Asia is significantly lower” than in Europe, the report found.

Paramount importance

Observing that addressing climate change is of “paramount importance,” the report concludes, “The time remaining for taking decisive political, economic and social action in order to prevent the worst from happening is already running out.”

However, “the ideas, concepts and technical capabilities needed to meet the challenges successfully already exist,” oekom continued. “Environmental and social commitment are not the product of economic success, but rather its root cause. Only those who manage energy and raw materials efficiently, treat their own employees and those of their suppliers fairly and offer products that are tailored to changing market requirements will also be economically successful in the long run. In this sense, sustainability is also described as long-term economics.”

oekom research was founded a year after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. On behalf of the sustainable investors that comprise its clientele, oekom analyzes and rates both companies and nations on their sustainability performance. For several years, oekom has published an annual Corporate Responsibility Review, which rates the world’s largest companies according to their performance in the seven areas of climate protection, biodiversity, water, forestry, poverty, demographic changes and corruption.

Despite the shortfalls in this year’s report, the report isn’t all doom and gloom. In oekom CEO Robert Haßler’s foreword to this year’s edition, he described the shifting corporate response to the agency’s measurement of sustainability performance in the early years.

“At the time, many companies viewed this as a monstrous imposition,” he wrote. “Managers were not used to having outsiders systematically and comprehensively scrutinizing their social, environmental and ethical behavior.”

Click on the image to open the report

oekom report

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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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2degrees checks in on our sustainability strategy

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2degrees‘ editor Tom Idle interviewed me live from our London showroom to find out how we’re advancing our sustainability strategy.

Watch the interview session to learn:

- About lifecycle analysis and how it can help you understand the environmental impacts of your product or service
- How you can find the hotspots that should drive your sustainability strategy
- Why I feel sustainability labels are unnecessary “‘fluff”
- Why industries need to move from corporate social responsibility to full transparency of products

This is a recording of the live interactive session.

Many thanks to Tom and the 2degrees team.

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4. LCA as a way to avoid burden shifting

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt 4 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

‘LCA as a way to avoid burden shifting’

The LCA approach studies whole product systems and thus enables businesses to avoid mitigating one environmental impact at the expense of aggravating another. LCAs are used because they can help avoid a narrow view of environmental concerns by compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and emissions. They evaluate the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases. This information can in turn help an organisation make more informed decisions.

The goal of an LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to a product or service with the aim of improving processes, supporting policy and providing a sound basis for informed decisions.

The product or service output: The functional unit

One of the key features of LCA is that it measures the impacts of a product or service instead of the direct impacts of the company that produces it.Therefore it is especially important to define the boundaries and scope related to any metric by which a product is measured. In LCA terminology this is called the ‘functional unit’, which defines precisely what is being studied and quantifies ‘the service delivered by the product system’, providing a reference to which the inputs and outputs of environmental impacts can be related.

Let’s start looking at it in a very simplistic way. Think of a glass. A glass is a countable thing: one glass, two glasses, three glasses. Glasses can be counted in units. The liquid contained by a glass, on the other hand, is not counted by units but in litres. So, in a simplistic way, the functional unit needed to carry out an LCA for a glass is units, but for the liquid in the glass it is litres.

But it gets more complicated. That way you could not compare two glasses with different capacities. You would need to compare the number of glasses needed to contain a given amount of liquid, because people want the glass to drink with. You would also need to think about cleaning them. If one was crystal and needed to be hand washed, and the other could be washed in a dishwasher, then you would need to take this into account over a given number of uses. Also, if one was very fragile, typically only lasting 100 uses, whereas the other was robust, then this would also need to be included within the functional unit. For drinks, then the question is whether it is just about the volume, because you are just using them to quench your thirst, or it might be about calories. Milk needs to be refrigerated, squash doesn’t.

Declared unit instead of functional unit

For most construction materials, the function cannot be finalised until we know how they will be used in the building. A carpet can provide sound proofing and thermal insulation, but this may not be required or used in the building, or may need to be compensated for if it is problematic. Cement’s function can only be considered based on the concrete it is used in and how it is used. For building products, we therefore consider ‘declared units’ of 1 kg, 1 m3, 1 item.

I argue that for FPT we should work on the basis of declared units rather than functional units, because a manufacturer of products should declare the impacts of their products irrespectively of how their clients will use their products. The declared unit for many raw materials, such as steel or cement, is kg. The functional unit for office space can be measured in m2. For power generation it could be kWh. The functional unit for carpet is m2 per product installed. That’s the functional unit over which product manufacturers should strive to make impact reductions. How the products are used is a matter for customers.

This idea of focusing on declared units is likely to cause some outrage to the LCA academics but declared units can work as building blocks while traditional functional units are better for comparative studies. For example, if you have the EPD of steel and cement per kg, carpet per m2 and so on for building materials, you can calculate the impacts of a building.

Defining functional units can get very tricky, especially in connection with services. What is the functional unit of a mobile phone service, for instance? Should it be a minute of a call? But the network is also used for the internet, so should it be MB of traffic? For tangible things such as ice-cream, t-shirts, or pens, the functional unit is quite clear: it’s what the customer gets. Unilever bases its LCAs on consumer use: one use of toothpaste, one use of rinse aid for the dishwasher, or one use of soap for a shower.

Example of functional units for LCA studies:

Lighting 10 square metres with 3000 lux for 50,000 hours with daylight spectrum at 5600 K.

Seating support for one person working at a computer for one year.

 1 m2 of insulation with sufficient thickness to provide a thermal resistance value of 3 m2K/W, equivalent to approximately 100 mm of insulation with a conductivity (k value) of 0.033 W/mK.

The amount of paint necessary to cover 20 m2 with an opacity of 98%. • A single pair of dry hands (to compare hand dryers, paper and textile towels).

1 km of gravity sewerage system under a road in a non-aggressive soil and groundwater environment, used for the removal of mixed household water, consisting of pipes DN 300 or DN 450 and manholes DN 1200 or DN 1350, with a service life of 50 years.

Example of simpler declared units:

1 kg (cement, steel)

1 m2 (carpet, office space, building)

1 litre (drinks)

1 use (toothpaste, soap)

Ancillary materials or processes

The point of ancillary materials or processes is particularly important. All the extra stuff needed to make a product or service actually work has to be taken into account. It’s quite obvious that you need to take into account the fuel needed to use a car. When looking at drinks, you need to factor in whether they need to be refrigerated or heated. When looking at soap, you need to factor in the water and heating needed to use that soap.

Note that it’s not the m2 of product sold, because you need to take into account the installation waste (cutting the carpet to fit the shape of the room). You also need to factor in the impact of ancillary materials used to install it, such as underlay or adhesive.

Problems with manipulating the scope and assumptions of LCA

Lifecycle assessment alone is not sufficient proof of a positive product footprint, for the simple reason that the scope of the study can be manipulated. There have been many examples of a ‘well chosen’ scope that can make good features look better than they really are while making bad points virtually disappear. You may, for example, have a mobile phone made with highly toxic materials but with a good battery life that exceeds the industry average. Solution for the unscrupulous business: choose energy or carbon as your main indicator, which will hide the toxicity and emphasise the good battery life.

Some years ago we saw manufacturers of paper tissues and manu- facturers of hand dryers simultaneously claiming that LCAs have shown their products had a lower impact than each other. This was because the hand dryer manufacturers assumed that customers used four paper towels per visit or a very short hot air blast, while the paper towel makers assumed one towel and a significantly longer hot air session. So it’s all about fair assumptions and scope. And better if there are strong rules than just relying on the interpretation of LCA practitioners or companies.

What are product category rules and how do they fix the assumptions?

Product category rules (PCR) are a set of regulations for products in a sector or category that are established by an independent technical committee that includes experts from that sector. Each PCR has within it a set of functional units and metrics common to that industry. The rules act as guidance to help a company understand what LCA data to collect. Product category rules explain how calculations should be made and presented – so as to best capture the different elements of a product’s total environmental footprint.

The PCR process is carried out in an open, transparent manner, and there is ample opportunity for various stakeholders to comment on how it is drawn up. This is crucial to making sure the PCR documents are of the highest quality possible. When all relevant comments are incorporated into the PCR it is approved and can then be used in the marketplace.

Although in theory each product is unique, it is not feasible to have a PCR for each one – that would lead to an avalanche of PCR documents. Instead, groups of product category rules have been created for similar products that consist of the same raw materials, types of chemicals, and compositions and components or for a group of different products that provide a similar function. This allows for the same set of rules to be applied to a large number of similar products – mobile phones, steaks, fridges, milk, cars, and so on.

Each PCR incorporates its own set of common functional units and metrics that are relevant to the industry in question, with agreed metrics relevant to the creation of the products or services in question.

Next time ‘What is an EPD’

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