Comparing Apples With Apples to Achieve Consistent Carbon Footprint Calculations
The Carbon Footprint Standard is one year old
In August 2018, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) published the first standard for carbon footprinting of products: ISO 14067:2018. On the ISO’s anniversary together with Daniele Pernigotti, the convenor of this ISO working group we look back and discuss why the standard is more relevant today than ever.
The standard development process was lengthy but thorough. Daniele and I contributed for nearly 10 years, Daniele as part of the Italian delegation and me representing New Zealand. While the first attempt at reaching consensus amongst the over 50 contributing countries came up short, it was apparent that there was unanimous agreement on the overall objective.
I see the international specification (instead of a standard) that was released in 2013 as a key milestone. The specification was a critical first step toward developing an internationally agreed upon methodology. It provided guidance on questions like how do we draw the system boundaries – what is in, and what is out? Do we need to account for soil carbon? Do we need to take the use of a product into account and consider the End-of-Life disposal?
That ISO 14067 passed last year as a standard is no surprise to Daniele. He remembers a letter from the UN just before work on the new standard began. It said that “developing a standard for carbon footprinting is of strategic importance” in achieving the aims of the UNFCCC, the international treaty on climate change that set national GHG reporting, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement in motion way back in 1992.
One of the most important aspects of the ISO 14067 new standard is that the life cycle approach is fully embedded, considering the entire product life, from cradle to grave, allowing us to assess the true impact of products. Organizations won’t be able to hide the true impact of their products by only looking at one part of the life cycle. For example, the use phase for an energy-consuming product and the transportion of raw materials to the manufacturing site need to be accounted for.
Carbon Emissions and Removals included in a Product Carbon Footprint
Those fundamental methodologies have not changed in the recently published standard. The key difference is however that it is now an internationally agreed upon standard. A level playing field has been created. Previously, a number of competing footprinting methodologies were used around the world, meaning apples-to-apples comparisons were impossible. This cuts down on misinformation that may arise when only one part of the life cycle is considered and communicated.
In my view, it’s extremely meaningful that Carbon Footprinting is covered in an ISO standard. It means each country had an equal voice throughout the development process ensuring a fair standard. Over 50 nations were part of the process, including a great number of developing countries like Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Nepal and emerging countries like India and Brazil.
Members of the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO)
Partly funded by the Swedish Government I was part of a capacity-building program for South and South-East Asian Countries. We ran workshops and seminars to build knowledge and capacity around carbon footprinting, but most importantly we also worked on the process of developing international standards. One great thing about ISO standards is that a vote or submission from Sri Lanka counts just as much as one from the US. All countries are encouraged to have a voice and their seat around the table.
This is especially important, because the economies of developing countries are often relying on exports of food products. With a current focus on our diet as a contributor to Climate Change, it is important that those countries had a say in developing a fair standard to build up capacity to undertake those calculations.
The carbon footprint of products is what organizations need to know to calculate their Scope 3 emissions.
Of course the same is true for New Zealand. However, we are fortunate enough to have the capacity in our country and MPI – back then MAF – funded a whole range of carbon footprinting studies for food products. This was at a time when food miles was a big discussion point. The standard helps to shift the focus to include the full production system, whereby transport is not the only aspect to consider. Once all stages of growing and processing food are taken into account, it becomes a fair comparison, and transportation potentially plays a lesser role. This still depends on the type of food and the mode of transport of course.
Daniele and I agree that the standard is more relevant today than ever before. The carbon footprint of products is what organizations need to know to calculate their Scope 3 emissions. With over 600 companies committed to setting a Science Based Target and over 100 companies in New Zealand in the Climate Leaders Coalition, there is a real need for robust calculations. One of the primary reasons for companies struggling with their Science Based Target approval is a lack of Scope 3 screening. The more products that have a carbon footprint calculation, the easier it will be for organizations to calculate their Scope 3 emissions from their supply chain.
Daniele is based in Italy and has some more insight into developments in Europe. He expects that the continued adoption of product carbon footprints will be driven by the market in the next few years, but he doesn’t exclude the possibility that they become mandatory at some point in the future. The development of the Product Environmental Footprinting (PEF) guidelines from the EU’s ‘Single Market for Green Products initiative’, for example, base the carbon part of their methodology on ISO 14067. This shows that it was even more important for New Zealand to contribute to this standard.