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What is a Product Carbon Footprint ? 

A Product Carbon Footprint (PCF for short) is a carbon footprint that includes all emissions emitted during the life cycle of a specific product. It must be distinguished from the corporate carbon footprint (CCF). The PCF includes all direct and indirect emissions associated with the product, from raw material extraction to disposal, and is intended to serve as a metric to improve comparability between products.   


What do you need a PCF for? 

As already mentioned, the PCF (Product Carbon Footprint) is intended to provide better comparability between products. However, there are many other reasons for which a PCF is helpful. Besides sustainability management, climate protection and supply chain management, the following are the most important arguments in favor of a PCF 

Of course, legislation is one of the biggest drivers in this development. In order to counter the ever-increasing risks of climate change, in 2015 at the World Climate Conference 195 countries committed themselves, among other things, to reducing greenhouse gases. In order to first record and then reduce these, extensive guidelines were adopted, which are now being imposed on companies.

Since the entire supply chain is considered when balancing a PCF, more and more companies are paying attention to the balance of the products they purchase. The closer these companies are to the end consumer, the more pressure is passed on to suppliers along the value chain. Thus, sooner or later, every company will be confronted with this issue. 

As the CO₂ balance is becoming a requirement of customers, this can be a decisive competitive advantage for companies. Good sustainability and supply chain management can therefore lead to a special and consolidated market position. 

For a large proportion of employees, sustainability aspects are an important criterion when selecting a potential employer. With the current shortage of skilled workers, a balance sheet in the context of a sustainability strategy (or also called a transformation concept) can therefore be a decisive advantage. 

How is this different from life cycle assessment? 

At first glance, there are many similarities between life cycle assessment (LCA) and product-specific carbon accounting, which is why it is important to point out the distinction between the two methods at this point. Product balancing can be seen as a simplification or subset of life cycle assessment. While a product carbon footprint focuses specifically on greenhouse gas emissions, life cycle assessment also includes other environmental impacts. Both methodologies have in common that the entire life cycle of the product is considered.  

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How is a PCF calculated?

In order to make the PCF of different products comparable, a reference value, the so-called "functional unit", must be defined before the balance sheet is drawn up, according to which all subsequent quantifications are aligned. 

In addition, the so-called reference flow must be defined. This is the quantity of a material or product that is required to provide the benefit defined by the functional unit. 

With the help of a so-called system flow chart, the product system to be balanced, including the associated influences, can be represented graphically. All process modules that belong to the life cycle of the respective product are represented by boxes. Arrows connect the individual modules according to their input and output flows. 

The definition of the system boundaries defines which product life phases are taken into account in the balancing process. The main question here is whether the distribution, use and disposal of a product should be included or neglected. If all life phases, including distribution, use and disposal, are included, the so-called "cradle-to-grave" approach is used. This approach is typically followed for end consumer products. In contrast, industrial products are often only accounted for using the so-called "cradle-to-gate" approach, i.e. only up to the boundary of their own factory sector. The reason for this approach is that it is often not possible to determine exactly which further processes the respective product will subsequently undergo. 

Product life cycle diagram Scopes Cradle to Gate cradle to Grave

At ENIT, we base the creation of a PCF on the individual conditions and objectives in your company and context. In addition, we take into account industry-specific standards, if applicable, and review customer-specific requirements. 

When preparing a PCF, it is important to note that the informative value of any balance sheet is heavily dependent on the quality of the data. The better the data basis, the more accurate the balance sheet can be prepared and can be used as a reliable basis for decision-making. In the case of product balancing, appropriately detailed energy data are therefore particularly important. 

If you would like to know how high-resolution energy data can help you not only in creating a CO₂ balance sheet, but also in energy efficiency as well as cost reduction, feel free to take a look at our energy management system. 

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Bird's eye view of solar panels on a factory floor

What norms and standards are there for the PCF? 

In addition to the calculation methods, there are of course also norms and standards that a product-specific CO₂ balance sheet or Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) should comply with. The most relevant of these are as follows:

ISO 14040 as well as 14044 - these international standards set out basic requirements on how life cycle assessments should be prepared in general. They provide a framework for the systematic collection, assessment and communication of information on environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of a product or service. The standards specify how environmental impacts are to be quantified and ensure that the results are comparable, transparent and reliable.

ISO 14067 - unlike ISO 14040, ISO 14067 provides specific requirements and guidelines for quantifying and communicating the product carbon footprint (PCF) of products, services as well as organizations. It also specifies methods for recording, calculating and communicating emissions.


What are the advantages of accounting at product level?

However, in addition to meeting various government and market requirements, a PCF also offers a variety of benefits.

Through environmental responsibility, companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability issues. This is increasingly important to consumers and stakeholders and can be a decisive argument when selecting products. This can result in competitive advantages that strengthen your market position vis-à-vis the competition. In addition, investors are often interested in the environmental performance of the companies they want to invest in. A good balance sheet can therefore be attractive not only to customers but also to investors.

A PCF can also identify various optimization potentials in the area of energy and resource efficiency in order to reduce unnecessary costs. Costs arising from rising CO₂ certificate prices can also be averted.

Since the entire product life cycle is considered for the creation of the PCF and thus there is also a focus on the supply chain, measures can be developed to minimize delivery failures and risks. This makes particular sense in the case of globally spun supply chains.

Quality characteristics and suppliers for Product Carbon Footprint?  

The quality characteristics of a Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) are the accuracy of the data and measurements as well as the reporting of emissions over the entire life cycle of a product. A high-quality PCF is therefore characterized by high data quality, valid methods and reliable data sources. To ensure the desired trust and the necessary comparability, the quantification should be transparent, consistent and traceable.  

Choose a trusted partner company whose expertise is in energy andCO2 management to prepare such a balance. 

In addition to the high data quality and precision, our offer is characterized by close and personal cooperation with you and extensive training to raise awareness among your employees. Take the chance and convince yourself of our services in our diverse webinars on these topics or download a sample balance sheet now to get a deeper insight. 

Through various cooperations with leading research institutions and innovation drivers in this field, we are constantly improving our scope of services so that your company also grows with the environment.  

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