What is a Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)?
Apr 20, 2023
Having a low product carbon footprint can differentiate a company from its competitors and increase their competitive advantage. By measuring and reducing their carbon footprints, companies can improve efficiency and reduce costs, while also building their brand and meeting the growing demand for sustainable products.
In this article, we will discuss the methodology of how to create a product carbon footprint and how it can benefit your company.
What is a Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)?
A product carbon footprint is a measurement of the amount of carbon emissions that are emitted during the entire life cycle of a product. This includes the raw materials used in production, manufacturing processes, transportation, product use, and disposal. The carbon footprint is measured in CO2 equivalents (CO2e), which includes all the greenhouse gases that are produced during the life cycle of the product.
Creating a product carbon footprint is an important place to start for companies looking to measure and reduce their carbon emissions. However, it's important to remember that a PCF is not separate from creating a carbon account at a company level. The emissions in a PCF are generated by activities of different entities across the value chain, similar to the GHG scopes in carbon accounting. Therefore, carbon accounting and product carbon footprints should be created based on the same data inventory, and organizations should collaborate with their suppliers to increase the quality and accuracy of both.
Why measure a Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)?
Measuring a product carbon footprint can help companies identify areas where they can reduce their carbon emissions, which can result in cost savings and improved environmental performance. It also allows companies to demonstrate their environmental credentials to customers and stakeholders, which can enhance their reputation and improve their competitiveness.
Methodology of creating a Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)
Step 1: Define the system boundaries of the product
The first step in creating a product carbon footprint is to define the boundaries of the product system. This involves identifying all the processes and activities that are involved in the production, use, and disposal of the product. It is important to include all the activities that contribute to the carbon emissions of the product, including the production of raw materials, production processes, transportation, and disposal.
Step 2: Collect data
The next step is to collect data on the carbon emissions associated with each activity in the product system. This can include data on the amount of energy used in production, transportation, and disposal, as well as data on the emissions produced by each activity. This data can be obtained from suppliers, industry associations, and government agencies.
Step 3: Calculate the carbon footprint
Once the data has been collected, the next step is to calculate the carbon footprint of the product. This involves converting the data into CO2 equivalents (CO2e) and adding up the total emissions from each activity in the product system. There are a variety of tools and methodologies that can be used to calculate the carbon footprint.
Step 4: Analyze the results
Once the carbon footprint has been calculated, the next step is to analyze the results and identify areas where emissions can be reduced. This can involve conducting a life cycle assessment to identify the most carbon-intensive activities in the product system and exploring options for reducing emissions. This can include switching to renewable energy sources, improving production processes, and reducing waste.
Step 5: Communicate the results
The final step in the process is to communicate the results of the carbon footprint to customers, stakeholders, and other interested parties. This can include providing information on the carbon footprint of the product on packaging and in marketing materials, as well as engaging with customers and stakeholders on efforts to reduce emissions.
In conclusion, measuring and reducing a product's carbon footprint is becoming increasingly important for companies. It can provide a competitive advantage by attracting environmentally conscious customers and enhancing the company's reputation. By following the methodology outlined above, companies can create a product carbon footprint and identify opportunities to reduce their carbon emissions.
Various PCF standards give companies guidance and support the credibility of carbon footprint metrics in the marketplace, making them highly beneficial.
Current methodologies may be grouped into two families:
Single-issue methodologies, covering only emissions and impacts related to climate change.
The ISO 14067 standard, a widely recognized international reference standard for PCF that builds on existing ISO standards for LCA.
National standards such as PAS 2050, a British standard that was revised in 2011, is also considered a leading carbon footprint standard.
The GHG Protocol Product Standard, widely used option that includes requirements for public reporting.
Methodologies that have a broader scope, covering environmental issues beyond climate change.
The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), aims to harmonize existing LCA standards and requires calculation of 16 impact categories, but some legislative proposals recommend reporting the PCF using climate change as the sole indicator.
National standards such as BP X30-323-0, a French standard similar to the PEF, covers multiple impact categories, but allows for separate reporting of the climate change indicator.
EN 15804, is the European standard that provides core product category rules for construction products and services, requiring calculation and reporting of all environmental indicators - including the climate change indicator - to quantify the carbon footprint of the product.
All standards mentioned above are built on the principles established in ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 and seek alignment with the latest reports of the IPCC. Some methodologies are more general, while others are more prescriptive and provide very detailed LCA requirements. When choosing a methodology, it is important to identify the goal of the study and the target audience, and to consider factors such as the required level of detail, the scope of the analysis, and any relevant regulations.
How to get started?
It might sound daunting at first, but getting started is simpler and quicker than you might believe. We built Variable to make it easy for anyone to create Product Carbon Footprints.
Don't worry about the frameworks and standards at first, just get started and you'll immediately gain valuable insights into the hot spots of your product's life cycle emissions and you'll be able to make plans for improvement.
You'll also have the opportunity to get buy-in from your internal stakeholders and work towards getting your PCF verified according to relevant standards.
In future articles, we'll cover different standards and provide guidance on selecting the correct one, but regardless of the standard, it's important to understand what to measure and collect relevant, high-quality data. The benefits of starting this work are immediate and will help you make progress towards your sustainability goals.
ISO 14067:2018 Greenhouse gases — Carbon footprint of products — Requirements and guidelines for quantification
BSI PAS 2050:2011 Specification for the assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services
WBCSD (2011) GHG Protocol Product Standard
EC (2021) COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION on the use of the Environmental Footprint methods to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organisations.