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Carbon footprint calculation is one of the most effective, quantifiable methods
- to understand a country’s, an organization’s, or an individual’s carbon footprint impact on the environment,
- to involve everyone, from heads of the state down to individual citizens, in actions to fight climate change (OFNK 2021)
In addition to corporate carbon footprints (CCF), which are divided into Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3, one can analyze individual carbon footprints (annual carbon footprint of an average German: 11 tons CO2e).
For the majority of companies, CO2 emissions assigned to Scope 3 are responsible for the largest part of the CO2 footprint. Scope 3 emissions include, among other things, all indirect emissions caused by the production of goods throughout the supply chain. But also the individual carbon footprint is strongly influenced by products: Over 40 % is attributable to personal consumption.
For this reason, product carbon footprints (PCF) are particularly relevant: To identifying hotspots and targeting effective reduction measures where it is most impactful.
There are mainly two ways to calculate PCFs: activity based and spend-based.
Spend-based PCF calculation works with general emission factors and only takes a product's price and the category it belongs to into account. This is the easier, but also the more inaccurate way.
By contrast, activity-based PCF calculation is much more complex but also more accurate. There exist three types of activity-based PCF calculation that differentiate in their granularity: average-based, hybrid, and supplier-specific.
For average-based calculation, industry-specific standard data, e.g., an average weight of a wooden chair or a child's t-shirt are used and combined with globally applicable emission factors. The hybrid approach goes a bit more into detail, using supplier-specific data whenever possible and filling data gaps with average data. The most granular approach is to only use supplier-specific fore- and background data. This approach uses life cycle analyses (LCA), for analyzing products over their entire life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials through production, distribution, use, and disposal.
PCF Calculation Approaches
Such analyses are usually complex and expensive. In addition, the required data (for example, precise supply chain information) is usually not available and can only be collected with great effort. For this reason, LCAs are not a good alternative for SMEs as well as for companies with a large product portfolio to calculate their Scope 3.1 emissions or analyze climate hotspots in their product portfolio.
Yook has developed a streamlined PCF methodology, which can be used to calculate product carbon footprints without any manual data effort and in an automated way. This method is on the one hand much more accurate than the spend-based method and on the other hand much more scalable and less complex than accurate LCAs. The results can be used by companies for Scope 3.1 reporting, as well as to identify hotspots and reduction potentials, and ultimately to provide carbon transparency and informed decisions to their customers.