Determining Product Sustainability
It is now highly important that companies and organisations monitor and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or become carbon neutral. Measuring the sustainability of your product(s) is a valuable way to begin looking at the overall impact they have. Doing this allows you to gain a better understanding of their current impacts and costs, as well as the future risks associated with the product(s) carbon emissions. For instance, high levels of carbon-equivalent emissions in a product’s production process can signal areas in need of energy efficiency upgrades, leading to future cost savings.
The sustainability of a product can be determined in a number of ways, including carbon footprint calculations and eco-efficiency analyses.
Carbon Footprint Calculations
A carbon footprint is defined as the total greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by an entity expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2kg eq). An entity can refer to any source, including an individual, organisation, locality, product, or project. Emissions are generated from various activities, including energy use, land clearing, waste management, and services purchased. GHG emissions are divided into three categories, scope 1 (direct emissions), scope 2 (indirect fuel emissions), and scope 3 (other indirect emissions).
A carbon footprint calculation is the first step to developing more energy-efficient business operations and identifying sustainability targets. It is important to begin by measuring a carbon footprint before investing in efficiency or sustainability improvements. Carbon calculations of products and services are also necessary for sustainability reporting, such as complying with the Global Reporting Initiative standards, participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project, or seeking an Eco-label.
Ecomatters has been quantifying environmental impacts for over a decade and has extensive experience with carbon footprint calculations. In addition, we can help you develop customised carbon footprint calculation tools for your products or organisation as a whole.
An Eco-efficiency Analysis (EEA) is a method that assesses the environmental and economic aspects of products and services. The Eco-efficiency calculation determines the ratio between the value of products and the environmental impacts and gives clear financial results. It is conducted through the integration of financial information into an existing product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
In an EEA study, the sustainability performance of a product is evaluated by comparing various scenarios. For this, the focus can be on procurement, logistics, manufacturing, distribution, and/or sales. Therefore, an EEA can provide insights on production with the use of fewer resources, creating less waste and pollution and improving the bottom line. This makes an Eco-efficiency Assessment a powerful management application that can assist in decision-making processes.
Methods to assess your Product Sustainability
The sustainability of a product can be determined in various ways, applying various methods. At Ecomatters we specialise in the following methods to assess your products.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a widely known and well-established methodology to analyse the environmental impact of a product and service throughout its life cycle. LCA quantifies the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water consumption, acidification, and ozone layer depletion, to show “hot spots” across a value chain. An LCA is used to break down different inputs and outputs at each stage of a product’s life cycle – from raw material extraction, producing and using a product, transport, and finally disposal or re-use (cradle to grave). The results of an LCA can be extended to include financial information for an Eco-efficiency Analysis (EEA), or serve as a baseline for certifications like Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), Product Environmental Footprints (PEF), and Eco-labelling. You can find more information on the process of performing an LCA here.
At Ecomatters, we have a long history of Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) and conducting Life Cycle Assessments. We focus on determining the methodologies that fit your needs best and can help you with the preparation of product claims and environmental product sheets. We follow the ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 guidelines and are proficient with various types of assessment software including GaBi and SimaPro.
Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a third-party verified document that is officially registered to show the environmental impact of a product or service. To construct the EPD, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to generate the impact results which are to be included in the EPD according to specific standards (e.g. EN 15804). The finished document is verified by an approved system operator and published on one of the publicly available online platforms. EPDs provide transparent and comparable information about a product. Certified EPDs are based on LCAs and follow ISO 14025 type III protocols. They are valid for use in compliance regulation or for green building schemes (e.g. BREEAM, LEED).
Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)
The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is part of the “Single Market for Green Products Initiative” initiated by the European Commission. Their goal is to make it easier for both companies to put green products on the European market and for consumers to identify them. The PEF methodology is designed to be a standardised way of measuring the environmental performance of a product.
The Product Environmental Footprint is a standardised document similar to an LCA or EPD. Per product, it outlines all the steps and specific rules established to make the appropriate environmental performance calculations. The rules for similar products are organised in documents called PEF Category Rules (PEFCR). A PEFCR is created at industry level, usually by a (European) industry association or similar market organisation.
Sustainability Product Legislation
For determining the sustainability of your product, Ecomatters supports companies with the necessary legislation compliance applicable to their products. This includes REACH compliance, food contact and packaging regulations, and waste and recycling legislation.
With more than tens of thousands of chemicals already on the market, and the introduction of hundreds of new formulas yearly, manufacturers, importers, or downstream users are faced with the task of determining potential risks for human health and the environment, as well as cataloguing, updating, and sharing certain information in a registration dossier. Regulations such as REACH support hazard assessment, risk management, and provision of appropriate safety information of the chemicals available on the European market. It is critical to comply with these regulations in order to guarantee the safe use of chemicals for humans and the environment.
Ecomatters supports companies in complying with REACH and achieving registration for their chemicals and products. We support both REACH registrants and downstream users.
Food contact & packaging regulations
During production, transport, and consumption, food comes into contact with all kinds of materials (including packaging, conveyor belts, and filters). These materials are called: Food Contact Materials (FCMs). The responsibility for the food safety of materials lies with the businesses putting them on the market. More specifically, the safety of materials means ensuring that there is no migration of unsafe levels of chemical substances from material (packaging) to food. Therefore, producers and importers must check and document that their food contact materials meet safety and legislative requirements. The safety of food contact materials is regulated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
In the EU, a declaration of compliance (DOC) is mandatory for food contact plastics (including recycled plastics), active and intelligent materials, ceramics, and regenerated cellulose film. For other types of food contact materials (i.e paper, inks), a DOC is currently not mandatory. However, it is common for actors further upstream in the value chain to request one.
Waste & Recycling legislation
When you throw something away it becomes waste. The EU Waste Framework Directive, or WFD, defines waste as ‘any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard’. Driven by the need to reduce the use of raw materials and reduce waste, the interest in the re-use and recycling of products has increased rapidly. For recyclers, it is highly important to know exactly when they deal with waste and when not. For example, they need to establish whether their ‘raw materials’ are waste within the meaning of the WFD or remain substances, mixtures, or articles.
In addition, various EU strategies and directives are being set up to regulate the types of plastics used and end-of-life of plastic products. As a part of the EU Plastic Strategy, European Parliament created a Single-use Plastic Directive to tackle marine litter coming from single-use plastic products most often found on European beaches, together with fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics.
Ecomatters has a long track record performing case-by-case risk-based legislation screenings, determining potential regulatory obstacles, and supporting companies in meeting regulations. Such screenings are specifically relevant when secondary raw materials are used for different applications with different exposure profiles than the original products.
Related case studies
Ecomatters performed the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) screening study on decorative paints…
Ecomatters performed an LCA screening demonstrating the sustainability benefits of…
Call with our consultant
Do you want to know more about how we can help? Schedule a call with one of our consultants to ask your questions.