measuring the environmental impact of your products

By Kevin Boon

Carbon Intelligence (CI) held a webinar on 10 November 2020 with the following panelists:

Mike Barry, former Head of Sustainability at Marks & Spencer

Fiacre O’Donnell, Director of Sustainability, Vidrala

Danielle Mulder, Director, Carbon Intelligence

Kirsty McKell, Associate Director, Carbon Intelligence

Susie Chalk, Senior Consultant, Carbon Intelligence

David Koram, Senior Consultant, Carbon Intelligence

Carbon Intelligence has a mission to take the UK to net zero supporting businesses with their strategies to net zero. They have an established centre of excellence in the area of Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions. The webinar takes a look at Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and product impacts and labelling. (Note that there is also a social LCA).

LCA is a science-based methodology for measuring the environmental impacts of any product or service. There are different scopes: B2B focuses on cradle to gate, consumer products on cradle to grave and circular products on cradle to cradle.  The number of different standards and labels out there means it can get complicated. There are over 80 carbon labels and over 450 global environmental labels.

There are typically 12 environmental impacts within the LCA of which global warming is just one.  The main standards CI applies are ISO 14040/44, GHG Product Life Cycle Protocol, PAS 2050 and PAS 2060. The stages in the assessment framework are as follows:

  • Goal definition and scoping.
  • Inventory analysis.
  • Impact assessment.
  • Interpretation and recommendations.

The outputs can be used in product design, process improvement, strategy development and marketing.

Applications for LCA include:

  • Transparency of environmental impacts.
  • Opportunities for optimising supply chain efficiency.
  • More informed business decision making.
  • Facilitating stakeholder communication.
  • Demonstrating sustainability competitive advantage.
  • Contributing to produce and service innovation.

CI work with their clients to determine the best type of LCA to align with their objectives. They use three levels of LCA: basic, pragmatic and advanced.

Mike Barry believes the next decade is all about product. He gives four reasons for this:

  • Government policy mandating net zero is driving systemic change across the economy. The bulk of emissions are associated with Scope 3 and the supply chain.  
  • Financial institutions are recognising the opportunity of investing in a net zero economy.
  • Consumer pressure.
  • Development of technology necessary to handle the big data sets and make decisions on the basis of them.

Big changes are taking place. BT’s pension fund are committing to being net zero by 2035, the Environment Agency’s pension fund by 2030. Nat West is targeting making transparent Scope 3 emissions associated with its lending and loans and reducing it by 50% by 2030. Governments are looking at legislation to drive this change.

Organisations, such as Unilever, are committing to introducing carbon labelling across their product range. Looking forward, there needs to be simplification by galvanising around key platforms such as TCFD and SBTs. Food is a key sector and there needs to be an assessment of its carbon and environmental footprint. Going forward we need to change the way in which we consume products. Mike’s advice to companies either large or small is to focus on the areas with the greatest impacts (hotspots) and look to prioritise them for LCA.

Vidrala is a glass manufacturing company producing more than 8 billion glass containers a year. It is a very energy intensive business. CI has been working with Vidrala for the last year to calculate their footprint including Scope 3, set targets and more recently undertaking LCAs. Fiacre O’Donnell sees LCAs as helping with Scope 3 which makes up around 90% of Vidrala’s impact.  It has given them a really good understanding on areas they need to focus on and develop. Fiacre sees it as an opportunity to gain new business as customers are increasingly demanding LCA. Important is to ensure credibility which means having the right data, applying the right procedures, applying the correct criteria and having a report that is robust and can stand up to challenge. He indicates that undertaking LCA has identified cost savings to the company. The circular economy is important for glass as it is 100% recyclable.