Product Carbon Footprints - Understanding Their Significance and How to Reduce Them

A lifecycle product carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted over the complete lifecycle of a product. This includes every emission producing activity from the extraction of raw materials, through production of intermediate and final goods, through distribution & storage, through product use, and finally to product disposal.

Depending on the inclusion (or exclusion) of supply chain steps, the lifecycle product carbon footprint can go by a few names.

  • A "Cradle-to-Grave" footprint denotes that the entire lifecycle, from resource extraction to decomposition (or combustion) of the final product, has been considered.
  • The "Gate" moniker, as in "Cradle-to-Gate", "Gate-to-Gate" or "Gate-to-Grave", is applied to denote that the considered supply chain steps start (or stop) at some intermediate production step. In other words, these are all partial lifecycle product carbon footprints.

The concept of product carbon footprint has gained widespread attention in recent years as consumers have become more aware of their impact on the environment and seek ways to reduce it. The significance of product carbon footprints lies in the fact that the production and consumption of goods and services is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The product carbon footprint of products within the same category can vary drastically. For example, some beef products have 10% the carbon footprint of equivalent products.

However, this information is not shown to consumers and they cannot take environmental factors into their purchase decisions.

By optimizing supply chains and production steps of products we can significantly reduce the overall carbon emissions of industry and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Access to high-quality and transparent lifecycle product carbon footprints across many businesses and industries will be an essential step in the fight against climate change. You can't control what you don't measure.

Once a company understands their own product carbon footprints and where their emissions come from, they can then take action to reduce it. Below are a few levers that can have a significant impact on a product carbon footprint:

  • Shifting suppliers: This involves using materials that have a lower carbon footprint than traditional materials. For example, using recycled materials or biodegradable materials can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a product.
  • Improving the efficiency of (or investing in new) production processes: This can be achieved by using renewable energy sources, reducing waste, and improving the overall efficiency of the production process.
  • Optimizing transportation: This involves reducing the distance that products need to travel from the point of production to the point of consumption. This can be achieved through local sourcing, efficient transportation, and reducing the number of intermediaries involved in the supply chain.
  • Encouraging recycling and reuse: By promoting the recycling and reuse of products, we can reduce the need for new products to be manufactured, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the overall production process.

Widespread implementation of the strategies mentioned above, across all sectors, is how we can ALL work towards a more sustainable future.