Policy update: Making footprints

Martin Baxter, IEMA's executive director of policy, on measuring the carbon footprints of products

The need to tackle the environmental impacts associated with consumption has led policymakers to focus on products.

The European Commission’s Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe 2020 reinforces the importance of policies on sustainable consumption and production alongside integrated product policies in decoupling growth from environmental impacts.

The increasing focus on product-related impacts has led to the development of a range of tools aimed at helping businesses understand how their goods affect the environment, although it can be confusing to determine the most appropriate way forward.

The life-cycle assessment standards in the ISO 14040 series provide a detailed methodology for evaluating products. While technically robust, this holistic approach is a time consuming and expensive process.

Single-issue footprinting tools have also been developed, such as PAS 2050 for measuring the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with a product.

At the international level, ISO/TS 14067 is a technical specification for carbon footprinting products, and work on a water footprint standard continues.

In support of its 2020 roadmap, the commission has also published organisational and product environmental footprinting methods and is seeking companies to pilot them.

Given that the commission can issue mandates to the European standards body (CEN) to develop standards, it is odd that it decided to create its own tools outside the established process.

Examining products in this way inevitably leads to questions about access to data in supply chains and security of supply.

The Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network’s new “resource dashboard” tool can assist firms in mapping “at risk” resources throughout a product’s supply chain and identify areas of vulnerability.

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