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Measuring your product’s carbon footprint – why secondary data is a silver bullet

As organizations strive to reduce their product carbon footprints, the meticulous process of data collection emerges as both a challenging and pivotal step. This journey toward accurate carbon footprint calculations hinges on the integrity of the data collected. Even minor discrepancies can significantly skew results, making it imperative to handle this process with precision and care.

The challenge of data collection

Data collection for environmental footprint analysis is inherently complex. The diversity of sources, the variability in data quality, and the volume of data required contribute to this complexity. Several factors make data collection particularly challenging:

1. Diverse data sources: Data must be collected from a wide array of sources, including raw material suppliers, manufacturing processes, distribution channels, and end-of-life disposal.

2. Data quality and consistency: Ensuring data quality and consistency across various sources is a significant challenge. Inaccurate or incomplete data can lead to flawed analyses.

3. Resource intensity: Gathering detailed primary data often requires significant time, effort, and financial resources. This includes direct measurements, surveys, and collaboration with suppliers and partners.

Understanding primary and secondary data

To fully grasp the importance of data in carbon footprint assessments, it is essential to understand the distinction between primary and secondary data.

Primary data

Primary data is directly measured or collected from specific activities or processes. It includes raw process data, site-specific data, and data obtained from suppliers and distributors. The advantages of primary data are its granularity and specificity, providing the most accurate representation of a particular product or processes’ environmental impact. However, the collection of primary data is resource-intensive, requiring significant time, effort, and financial investment.

Secondary data

In contrast, secondary data consists of pre-existing data collected by other researchers, organizations, or scientific databases. This type of data is invaluable when primary data is inaccessible, incomplete, or impractical to collect. Secondary data provides broad coverage and can fill gaps in primary data, offering a comprehensive view of a product’s environmental impact. It is particularly useful for estimating indirect emissions, such as Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions.

Scope 2 Emissions: These are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy, such as electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by the reporting company.

Scope 3 Emissions: These are all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain, including both upstream and downstream emissions. This includes emissions from sources such as purchased goods and services, business travel, waste disposal, and the transportation and distribution of products.

* Many companies don’t calculate these emissions because they don’t directly control them or have primary data, as it involves many other parties in the supply chain. Using software that has access to secondary data can help companies better assess scope 3 emissions. Additionally, many regulations either mandate or encourage the calculation of these emissions, further driving companies to comprehensively assess them.

The crucial role of secondary data

Secondary data serves as a safety net, ensuring that carbon footprint assessments are robust and reliable. Here are key reasons why secondary data is indispensable:

1. Cost-effectiveness: Secondary data provides a cost-effective alternative to the labor-intensive process of collecting primary data.

2. Time efficiency: With secondary data readily available, the time required to perform footprint analyses is significantly reduced. This efficiency is crucial for meeting regulatory deadlines.

3. Broad coverage and benchmarking: Secondary data encompasses industry averages and standards, facilitating benchmarking and the setting of realistic sustainability goals. It provides a broader perspective, enabling organizations to evaluate their performance against industry norms.

However, secondary data typically represents a worst-case scenario. Consequently, the actual environmental impact derived from primary data is often lower than that indicated by secondary data. Emphasizing this contrast underscores the conservative nature of secondary data, which acts as a safeguard, ensuring that any deviations when using primary data result in a more favorable environmental assessment.

Data collection with Ecochain Mobius

To support organizations in their carbon footprint assessment journey, Ecochain Mobius offers access to a range of comprehensive databases. These include Ecoinvent, with over 17,000 global datasets; the PEF database, designed for EU compliance; the ELCD, focusing on European production processes; and the Nationale Milieu Database (NMD), which is tailored for the Dutch construction sector. By leveraging these databases, Ecochain Mobius ensures that users have reliable, region-specific data at their fingertips, simplifying the process of achieving accurate and comprehensive carbon footprint assessments.


Measuring your product’s carbon footprint is essential for business due to increasing regulatory pressures, growing consumer demand for sustainable practices, and the need to mitigate environmental impact.

While primary data remains essential for detailed and specific product footprint analyses, secondary data provides a robust and accessible foundation. It ensures a comprehensive and accurate view of a product’s environmental impact, enabling businesses to avoid potential criticism and greenwashing claims. By strategically integrating both primary and secondary data, organizations can achieve balanced and thorough environmental assessments, paving the way for more sustainable practices and informed decision-making.

Aleksandra Melekhina

As a content marketer with a passion for sustainability, I'm driven to create informative resources that empower businesses to embrace innovation and practices that prioritize environmental well-being

All posts by Aleksandra Melekhina