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The future of product carbon footprint management: predictions and trends

Dr Pratik Vinayak Gholkar, a Senior Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Research Lead at Ecochain with extensive experience in renewable energies and sustainability assessment, shares his insights on the future of carbon footprint management. In this article, I explore the current state and future of carbon footprint management. As the world faces a climate crisis, businesses and governments are seeking innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I'll examine emerging trends that are shaping the way organizations approach carbon management. Join me as I discuss how businesses can adapt to this new era of sustainability.

Overview:

The current state of carbon footprint management
The emerging trends
My predictions
Examples of companies leading the way in carbon footprint management
How your business can prepare for the future
Make LCAs work for you

The current state of product carbon footprint management

Carbon footprint management is the process of measuring, reporting, and reducing the total amount of CO2 emissions produced by an organization and its products. Carbon management typically involves several strategies, such as improving energy efficiency, optimizing energy production processes, and offsetting carbon emissions by capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS).

Recently, the concept of CCUS has been criticized in scientific and popular science articles.

It’s a lot harder to deal with CO2 emissions once they are produced than it is to reduce them from ever being created in the first place. I believe the concept that one-tonne-in is equal to one-tonne-out in the carbon market is not a realistic representation of the current CCUS scenario. Consequently, carbon footprint reporting has also been criticized as an oversimplification or a get-out-of-jail-free card for many businesses that use offsetting as an excuse to continue the production of high-emission products.

Nonetheless, the importance of innovative carbon management solutions cannot be overlooked in a world facing a global climate crisis. As we grapple with the urgent need to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, businesses and governments alike are looking for forward-thinking solutions to manage their carbon footprints.

The emerging trends

We are seeing such a boom in artificial intelligence (AI) technological advancements this year that it is quite hard to keep up with–and the carbon management market is no different. 

AI can also be used to aid in the creation of climate models and understand the long-term efficacy of carbon management projects. But we’re not just looking at technological advancements, regulatory changes in the carbon management market are quickly following suit. 

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) by the ERU means SMEs and large enterprises will have to report a wide range of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. In the UK, the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) policy will require businesses to share energy and carbon emissions in their annual reports.

Failing to measure and manage product carbon emissions can expose businesses to significant risks, including reputational damage, loss of market share, and missed opportunities for innovation and efficiency. It’s obvious that businesses lagging behind in their carbon footprint management need to quickly catch up if they want to stay current in today’s global market.

My predictions

I believe we’re going to be looking beyond just carbon in late 2025, taking into account the interdependent nature of our planet’s boundaries. With 50% or more of the world’s GDP dependent on nature and its services and a 69% decline in species populations since the 1970s, we need to start understanding climate and nature issues holistically.

Following this holistic thread, I’m encouraging businesses to better embed carbon footprint management across their entire supply chains. With 35% of businesses behind on their Scope 3 (indirect, not owned) and 24% still not on track to meet Scope 1 (direct emissions) and 2 (indirect emissions, owned) decarbonization targets, there seems to be an obvious disparity between legislation and action. In fact, 60% of companies are lacking a dedicated strategy to reduce Scope 3 emissions. To achieve these targets, companies need to view their emissions data with the same importance as improving efficiency and reducing costs.

It is becoming increasingly clear that measuring your product’s carbon footprint alone is not sufficient when it comes to navigating the climate crisis. To fully understand and manage their environmental impact, companies must adopt a holistic approach that considers a wider range of impact categories. One of the easiest ways to do so is through a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a comprehensive framework for evaluating the environmental effects of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal.

LCA methodology aids businesses in identifying hotspots across multiple impact categories, such as water consumption, land use, and resource depletion, enabling you to implement targeted strategies to minimize your overall environmental footprint while minimizing the carbon footprint.

Examples of companies leading the way in carbon footprint management

For a bit of inspiration, here are some examples of great companies leading the way in product carbon footprint management.

ZeroPackaging
ZeroPackaging, an initiative by Paxpring, is leading the way in sustainable packaging solutions by integrating LCA into their design process. By measuring the environmental impact of their designs across multiple life cycle stages, ZeroPackaging can identify hotspots and make data-driven decisions to reduce their carbon footprint. A prime example of their success is the redesign of Vodafone’s signature packaging. By reducing the package size, replacing plastic void fill with cardboard, and adopting sustainable printing techniques and inks, ZeroPackaging achieved a remarkable 48% reduction in the packaging’s carbon footprint. 

IKEA 
IKEA, the world-renowned Swedish furniture retailer, aims to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than its entire value chain generates. IKEA’s circular design approach ensures that products are created with reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and eventual recycling in mind. The company has made significant strides in sourcing sustainable materials, with over half of its materials being renewable and nearly a fifth recycled in 2021. IKEA is also investing in renewable energy, having launched IKEA Home Solar in 2015, with plans to expand its availability to 30 markets by 2025.

Patagonia
Patagonia, the renowned outdoor clothing and gear company, has set the bar high for environmental responsibility beyond just carbon neutrality. With a strong commitment to sustainability, Patagonia has made significant strides in using eco-friendly materials, with 78% of their materials being recycled and 100% of their cotton being organic. The company has also implemented the ‘Worn Wear’ program, which allows customers to buy used, trade-in, and repair their Patagonia gear, extending the life of their products and reducing waste. Patagonia has also set an ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral across its entire business, including its supply chain, by 2025.

Dopper
Dopper, a Dutch company leading the charge against packaged water, has revolutionized the design of their iconic sustainable water bottles. By switching from Excel-based product footprint calculations to full LCAs, Dopper gained valuable insights into the environmental impact of alternative design options. The data revealed that raw materials were the primary impact hotspot, prompting Dopper to incorporate biobased and recycled plastics, limit color choices to low-impact pigments, and ensure recyclability through single-material components. The result is a fully recyclable, modular, and sustainable bottle that has become a staple in the Netherlands and beyond.

Burberry
Burberry, the iconic British fashion house, is setting a new standard for sustainability in the industry. Recognizing the fashion sector’s significant environmental impact, Burberry has committed to sourcing 100% of their key materials from traceable sources by 2025, including recycled nylon, recycled polyester, wool, and organic cotton. The company has already launched the ‘ReBurberry Edit’, a collection of 26 styles crafted from sustainable materials, demonstrating their dedication to eco-friendly fashion. Additionally, Burberry is working with partners like the Better Cotton Initiative and Textile Exchange to examine options for more sustainable materials, ensuring their products have a positive impact on the environment.

How your business can prepare for the future

Sustainability thinking should be part of businesses’ DNA to prepare for the future of product carbon footprint management. Businesses should adopt a more holistic approach that goes beyond measuring just carbon emissions. This means considering the interdependent nature of our planet’s boundaries and addressing climate and nature issues comprehensively.

Investing in digital technologies is another opportunity for businesses to effectively monitor and report on their environmental performance. By leveraging these tools, companies can make data-driven decisions to reduce emissions and optimize resource use.

Finally, and most importantly, businesses should embrace the Life Cycle Assessment methodology to gain a comprehensive understanding of their environmental impact across multiple categories along with carbon footprints.

Make LCAs work for you


Take the first step towards a more sustainable future by trying Ecochain’s LCA software, recognized as PACT conformant by WBCSD, which enables companies like yours to calculate and exchange product carbon footprint data seamlessly across value chains. Learn more about product carbon footprinting here.

By creating carbon transparency and informed decision-making, Ecochain empowers a wide range of businesses to accelerate decarbonization efforts and achieve net-zero goals on a global scale. 

Author image Dr. Pratik  Gholkar PhD
Author
Dr. Pratik Gholkar PhD

Pratik is an LCA research lead at Ecochain. With an interdisciplinary background spanning biotechnology, biochemical engineering, and chemical engineering, Pratik brings a unique perspective to the sustainability assessment. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering from IIT Bombay, India, and Monash University, Australia, focusing on renewable energy generation and sustainability. Pratik's commitment to advancing sustainable solutions resonates through his impactful contributions to academia and the sustainability industry.

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