Product Carbon Footprint - definition:
The Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) is the most established method for determining the climate impact of a product. Throughout the entire life cycle of a product - from raw material extraction to recycling or disposal - climate-relevant impacts arise in the form of greenhouse gas emissions. The Product Carbon Footprint helps to identify, analyse and, with the right measures, reduce or (ideally) completely avoid these impacts.
In addition to the product-related carbon footprint, there is also the Corporate Carbon Footprint (CCF), which considers the impact of the company. For the determination of the PCF and CCF, there are standards and norms that are constantly being further developed.
The global climate goals by 2050 aim at a decarbonized world, which is why all products and services must be evaluated with regard to their climate impact. As a result, the PCF is becoming increasingly important.
The CO2 footprint is not only - as the name suggests - about carbon dioxide emissions, but also about other CO2-equivalent substances such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or sulphur hexaflouride (SF6). The climate impact of the various greenhouse gases is expressed in CO2 equivalents, since the gases have different greenhouse potentials.
When calculating the Corporate Carbon Footprint, a distinction is also made between direct and indirect impacts (Scope 1-3).
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Goals of the Product Carbon Footprint
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and achievement of climate goals
- Analysis of the climate-relevant hotspots of a production system
- Increasing transparency in industry
- Development of internationally binding, harmonized standards and guidelines
Existing standards for calculating a PCF
In recent years, various standards have been developed to determine the CO2 balance of products. The best-known standards for calculating a carbon footprint are the British PAS 2050, the GHG and ISO 14067.
- PAS 2050: Publicly Available Specification (PAS)
PAS was first published by the British Standards Institute in 2008 and revised in 2011 to provide an internationally consistent method for quantifying the CO2 balance of products and services.
- GHG Protocol: Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard
The GHG protocol was based on the first PAS 2050 method in the development of its product standard. It was published in 2011 and contains requirements for quantifying the greenhouse gas inventories of products and for public reporting.
- ISO 14067
ISO 14067 is probably the most widely used standard for the creation of a Product Carbon Footprint. It is consistently being worked on. ISO 14067 defines the balance limits in which climate change alone is considered an impact category. This standard is widely applicable to all products and is intended to promote transparent communication of the results.
Differences between the standards
These 3 methods already reach relative consensus in rules for industries or products, recycling and delayed emissions. But there are also significant differences in the standards used to calculate the CO2 footprint. Here are a few examples:
- For instance, the British PAS does not include the following points: Capital goods, human energy input into processes, transport of the consumer to and from the retail location and commuting of employees.
- With the PAS it is possible to neglect 5% of the total emissions, provided that said emissions do not exceed 1% of the total impacts each.
- In the case of GHG, only the 6 substances under the Kyoto Protocol have to be listed in the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA). The listing of further product-relevant substances is recommended, but is not mandatory.
The PCF is an important step towards reducing greenhouse gases and thus in the fight against climate change. For some products and sectors, however, greenhouse gas emissions are not the most important factor, but other environmental aspects, such as resource consumption, soil acidification or the impact on biodiversity. These environmental impacts are not taken into account by the CO2 balance, as it only considers the impact on our climate.
If the total ecological effects of a product or company are to be understood, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the method of choice.
▶ Read more about Life Cycle Assessments
The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is another method which is recommended by the European Commission. It is intended to improve the comparability of environmental performance assessments through clearer rules and strict specifications. The planned effort reduction should enable a broader application.