Every decision you make about your products can be an opportunity to reduce your climate impact. EcoAct Senior Consultant, Lau Tambjerg, shares a three-step approach to best practice product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and demonstrates how it can help accelerate you on your path to net zero.
Many of our clients have already completed or are in the process of conducting one or more product carbon footprints using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. This process provides an overview of emissions hotspots across the full value chain of a product which in turn helps to drive more sustainable choices. LCA can therefore be a powerful tool for making better procurement decisions, communicating sustainability achievements, achieving compliance and setting realistic and measurable emissions reductions targets.
This is the power of one product footprint but assessing a portfolio of products enables you to take full advantage of the LCA methodology and accelerate your organisation on its path to net zero.
Product carbon footprints are often viewed as a single-standing project. At EcoAct, an Atos company, we help our clients gain more value from an LCA through a three-step framework:
Step 1. Go deep
To gain the best understanding and achieve the most meaningful impact, we have to dive deep into the data. If done correctly, a product carbon footprint will provide a high level of detail on sources of emissions and the most significant elements that influence resource and energy use – the emissions hotspots. With more in-depth information, you can better understand how emissions can be reduced or avoided entirely.
This can include activities such as:
- Understanding and improving the quality of underlying inventory data
- Gathering data from your specific suppliers rather than relying on secondary data
- Engaging with your suppliers to identify ways for them to reduce emissions
- Seeking out alternative materials such as recycled or bio-based materials
- Determining optimal choices of production technology where alternatives exist
With richer information, you can gain a more accurate emissions footprint and a more robust view of how you can make changes, engage with suppliers or redesign in order to reduce a product’s impact. Then you could also look to offset any residual emissions to create a carbon neutral or net-zero product which can contribute to your overall company-wide objectives.
Once you have gained a thorough understanding of the typical hotspots and opportunities for improvement, it is time to expand beyond individual products.
Step 2. Go wide
Going wide means assessing not just one product in your portfolio but expanding this to cover multiple, if not all, products. This can for example be done with Organisational Life Cycle Assessment (OLCA) that extrapolates data across similar products to gain a picture of portfolio emissions and adding additional products becomes easier. This approach develops a comprehensive overview of the portfolio of products and enables the scaling up to an organisation-wide assessment. Companies like BASF and Unilever are already assessing many if not all of their products.
This will enable you to understand portfolio-wide hotspots and enable strategic decision-making that can shift the entire product range or brand. At the same time, as the analysis also provides details on each product, R&D and product design teams can identify ways to improve the carbon credentials of products and make them part of your net-zero strategy. Portfolio-wide product carbon footprints can also be used as a way of reducing transition risk. A key element of future corporate costs associated with climate change is increasing carbon taxes enforced by governments. Incorporating a product’s profit margin in your OLCA will quickly show which products may no longer be profitable if exposed to an increased carbon tax.
Step 3. Go again
A product carbon footprint should be an ongoing process, an exercise that allows you to continually minimise your products’ environmental impact and also revisit your emissions reduction targets and efficiency practices. To meet the ambition set in the Paris Agreement we must halve our emissions every decade and achieve net zero by 2050. The products that we sell must align to this target not only as part of a company’s net-zero strategy but also to respond to the growing demand for sustainable products from consumers.
Once you have assessed your products in step 1 and 2, we recommend establishing governance to oversee and review your assessments periodically. This will enable tracking of emissions over time and ensure you are aware of contextual factors that might be impacting your emissions (such as changing the electricity grid mix). Tools like EcoAct’s Carbon Reduction and Feasibility Tool (CRaFT) can help provide an ongoing picture of your emissions from products as well as the wider organisation. It is an easy and visual way to forecast emissions, set a science-based target or a net-zero target with confidence, gain buy-in for climate initiatives and support decision-making, as well as track your progress.
Conducting carbon assessments at regular intervals ensures information stays front of mind. It enables both innovation and continuous improvement, as well as strategic shifts in the way companies do business. Additionally, committing to a calculation schedule over time will help you identify the residual emissions that need to be sequestered to achieve net zero across your company’s entire scope of activity.
LCA can undoubtedly be a challenging process but done effectively can add real value to your business by showing how to reduce the environmental impact of products, become more resilient to changing regulations, and meet the growing demand for more sustainable products. If we are to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and reach net zero by 2050, significant changes must be made across all aspects of business operations. Done properly, LCA can have real impact. We have developed this three-step approach through working with many clients across a variety of sectors. It is a robust way to really get more value out of this process and make it an important part of your net zero strategy.