The Carbon Footprint represents the exact quantity of greenhouse gas emissions of a product or an organisation generated during the life cycle of a product or service.
The Kyoto Protocol was the first international agreement finalised at the reduction of GHG – Greenhouse Gases – to fight climate change. These are gases that, according to their Global Warming Potential, contribute to the global climate warming. The reduction of carbon emissions determines an improvement in energy efficiency, resources and also economic savings.
In conformity with the Kyoto Protocol, greenhouse gases to be included are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). The tCO2e (tonnes of CO2 equivalent) enables the expression of the greenhouse effect produced by these gases in reference to the greenhouse effect produced by CO2, considered equal to 1 (for example, methane has a greenhouse gas potential 25 times higher than CO2, and this is why one tonne of methane is calculated as 25 tonnes of CO2 equivalent).
The Carbon Footprint of an Organisation is calculated by creating an “inventory of greenhouse gas emissions”, with annual reference, to understand how much and in which activities or sectors there are traces of carbon, so as to be able to reduce or eliminate them.
Expressed in the unit of measure CO2eq, the Carbon Footprint of Product (CFP) considers the overall emissions of all the phases of the product or service life cycle, “from cradle to grave”, in relation to the Global Warming Potential of the CO2: the calculations begin with the phases of supply and treatment of the raw materials that make up the product, their processing and product manufacturing, to transport to the client, its use, and the disposal of the product at the end of its life cycle.
Over recent years a substantial increase in the use of new eco-compatible products has been perceived, based on a careful LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), in both construction and industrial fields.
With the implementation of the European Directive on building products (European Directive 89/106, implemented in Italy with Presidential Decree n. 246 of 21 April 1993 and replaced by °European Regulation 305/11, which was fully enacted on 1 July 2013) also in the field of construction, increasing attention was paid to sustainable materials, a choice that was previously adopted only by the industrial field.
We find some examples as of today in commerce, like: cellulose fibre panels, natural pigment-based paints, recycled structural panels, panels reinforced with wood, straw and cement, products in recycled stone from scraps of limestones and specific plastics, insulations made with sheep wool, products that adopt regenerated bituminous membranes and many more.
The Life Cycle Assessment is an analytical and systemic methodology that assesses a set of interactions that a product or service has with the environment, considering its entire life cycle, including the points of pre-production (hence the extraction and production of materials), production, distribution and use, its recycling and the final disposal; the analysis therefore covers the entire useful life of the product, and so is often referred to as “from cradle to grave” analysis.
The reference guidelines for an LCA are the ISO standards of the 14040 series.
The LCA can be considered an instrument for assessing the potential environmental impact associated with the life cycle of a product, of a process or of an activity, using the quantification of the use of the resources (“inputs” like energy, raw materials, water) and emissions into the environment (“emissions” into the air, into water, and into the soil) associated with the system being assessed.
This system still has limitations in that it adopts models for analysing the environmental impact; the results of an LCA are in any case based on global data that may not be suitable for local applications and its accuracy is limited by a sometimes scarce quality of the data. Nevertheless, today it remains one of the most reliable methods for the assessment of a product or activity in its interactions with the environment.
The LCA makes it possible to analyse the complexity of the entire life cycle, thereby making it possible to identify which are the most impactful phases and those that require interventions. The LCA can be considered a plan that puts the improvement of both existing and new products on track.
The results of the LCA can be used to compare similar or different products, if they have the same function, to request environmental certification and to communicate the environmental performance of the product.
The significance of the LCA techniques lies mainly in their innovative approach, which consists in being able to evaluate all the phases of a production process, “from cradle to grave” as correlated and dependent: among the instruments for the industrial systems analysis, the LCA has gained a leading role in recent years and its usage, on both national and international levels, is growing intensely.
On an international level, LCA methodology is regulated by ISO standards of the 14040 series, in which a study of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is structured on the basis of the following phases of work:
On a European level, the strategic value of the adoption of LCA methodology as a basic tool is expressed in the Green Paper COM 2001/68/EC and COM 2003/302/EC on the Integrated Product Policy, and it is also recommended within European Regulations EMAS (Reg. 1221/2009) and Ecolabel (Reg. 61/2010).
There are numerous applications:
The term “eco-design” or “sustainable design” is often focussed on the term “design”, thereby thinking about characteristics of the structure and innovative functionality that respects the environment.
However, Eco-design is a base element of an economically sustainable model; it consists of a project based on the dynamic use of resources and materials, enables the reduction of environmental impact linked to the production and contributes to the reduction of wastes generated, intervening on the durability, the ease of repair and upgrades, and recyclability of the products themselves. This planning focusses on the principles of the circular economy.
At the base of this process, we find some key principles:
The first is a synonym of a holistic view of the product, intended as a powerful system that interacts with the environment during every phase, beginning with the extraction of the raw materials, the use, and up to its management at the end of its life cycle.
The “eco-charrette” system represents instead a sharing and multidisciplinary approach that characterises the study of complex phenomena.
Indeed, practising eco-design requires:
The principles of eco-design are applied to all the phases of the life cycle of the product, with the objective of reducing the overall environmental impact: from the supply and use of the raw materials, which must be reusable, biodegradable, recyclable, and non-toxic;
processing, production process, and distribution must respect the EU directive on eco-design (Directive 2009/125/EC), in terms of energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact.
Even the consumption of the product and the capacity to reuse it converge in defining it ecological and sustainable: the life cycle of the product must be able to be prolonged as much as possible, through recycling and/or reuse of its components. Alternatively, the product must be 100% biodegradable, in such a way as to fully enter the natural cycle.
Eco-design therefore represents the new vision of design: the possibility of designing without taking into account the entire life cycle of the product. LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) makes it possible to assess the entire life cycle of the products and how these “interact” with the environment, including the phases of pre-production, production, distribution, use and reuse, and final disposal.
This is a procedure standardised on an international level according to ISO 14040 and 14044. The system viewpoint is at the base of the LCA logic, enabling the comprehension and management of the complexities of the supply chain, upstream and downstream of the production process. Therefore, the criticalities in the entire life cycle of the product are identified in order to hypothesize solutions aimed at savings and the recovery of energy and material.
Important references are ISO 14006 for the integration of eco-design processes in the environmental management systems and ISO-TR 14062, which presents concrete solutions for implementing these plans. Interest in this topic is also reflected in the publication of ISO 62959 on “environmental conscious design”.
The Environmental Product Declaration is a document that provides a transparent, objective, and comparable description of the environmental impact of a specific product or service. The EPD enjoys international recognition and can be applied to all types of products or services.
The EPD is a voluntary certification scheme born in Sweden but with international recognition and can be applied to all types of products or services that fall under community environmental policies (ref. Integrated Product Policy – IPP). The purpose is to inform the market about the environmental impact of a product or service.
The ISO 14020 standard distinguishes three types of environmental labels, or:
TYPE I (ISO 14024): voluntary ecological labels based on a system that considers the entire life cycle of the product. They are subjected to external certification by a competent body, which can be either public or private.
TYPE II (ISO 14021): environmental self-declaration, where the information is provided by producers, importers, or distributors of products but without the intervention of an independent certification body. In any case, there are restrictions concerning the contents and the methods of diffusion.
TYPE III (ISO 14025): Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, contains objective and quantifiable information on the environmental impact associated with the life cycle of a product. The verification and validation activities are carried out by accredited third-party bodies.
The EPD uses the LCA – Life Cycle Assessment as a methodology for the identification and quantification of environmental impacts. The application must be in conformity with the provisions outlined in the ISO 14040 series of standards, so as to guarantee the objectivity of the information contained in the declaration.
To obtain the certification of an Environmental Product Declaration, it is necessary to verify the availability of the “Product-Specific Rules” for the type of product or service for which one intends to apply for the Environmental Product Declaration.
If they are already available, the Organisation must:
If the EPD and the LCA study result as being adequate, the body issues the validation of the Environmental Product Declaration. Successively, the Organisation requires the registration of the Declaration in the EDP Register, acquiring the right to use the relative logo; the Declaration is valid for three years.
If the PCR are not yet available, then the Organisation must first draft a specific PCR for the type of product/service and request its approval; while waiting for the PCR to be approved by the competent body, the Organisation may request the pre-certification of the EDP.
Advantages of the Environmental Product Declaration
The advantages of the EPD regard both the producers and the consumers.
The producers can demonstrate that they are attentive and aware of environmental issues, having conducted in-depth analyses on their product or service regarding its environmental impact.
Consumers can obtain clear and transparent information on the product/service itself.
Other benefits of the Environmental Product Declaration are the following:
Ecolabel is the label of ecological quality of the European Union (EU Ecolabel), which distinguishes products and services that, although they guarantee a high performance standard, are characterised by a reduced environmental impact during the entire life cycle. The brand was instituted in 1992 by Regulation n. 880/92 and is today governed by the Regulation (EC) n. 66/2010 in force in the 28 countries of the European Union and in the nations belonging to the European Economic Area – EEA (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein).
The EU Ecolabel is a voluntary ecological label based on a system of criteria that take into account the environmental impacts of products or services during the entire life cycle and is subjected to certification by an independent body (competent body). The environmental performance is evaluated according to scientific bases, analysing the most significant environmental impacts during the entire life cycle of the product or service, also taking into account the duration of the average life span of the products, their ability to be reused/recycled and the reduction of the packaging as well as their content of recycled material.
The objective is to guarantee transparency and credibility of the programs of Type 1 environmental labelling and harmonise the principles and procedures applied to them. Therefore, this speaks about guaranteeing the accuracy and reliability of the environmental information on the market.
In force since10 May, UNI EN ISO 14024:2018 establishes the principles and procedures for the development of Type I environmental labelling programmes, including the selection of the product categories, of the environmental criteria of the product, and the functional characteristics of the product for the assessment and demonstration of conformity and establishing the certification procedures for assigning the labelling. ISO 14024:2018 also establishes the certification procedure for assigning the labelling.
Type I environmental labelling: Voluntary ecological labels based on a multi-criteria system that considers the entire life cycle of the product, subjected to external certification by an independent body (including, for example, the European ecological quality brand ECOLABEL). (ISO 14024). The programmes of these voluntary labellings can be managed by public or private agencies and can be of a national, regional, or international nature.
The different approaches to environmental labelling assign one’s own label to products that meet a series of predetermined requirements; the label identifies the products that are deemed suitable from an environmental viewpoint within a particular category of products.
The descriptions and basic principles present in the previous edition (1999) are still unchanged, in that they fully describe the work that the Type 1 Ecolabels carry out successfully worldwide.”
The Environmental Product Declaration is a declaration of environmental impacts of a product generated along its entire life cycle; it is Type III environmental label. This kind of ecological label bears declarations based on parameters stabilised and contains a quantification of the environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of the product calculated using an LCA system. These ecological labels are subjected to an independent control and presented in a clear and comparable form. These include the “Environmental Product Declaration”: ISO 14025 establishes specifically the use of the ISO 14040 standard series in the development of Type III environmental declaration programmes and the Type III environmental declarations.