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Future-proof manufacturing: The essential role of Product Carbon Footprints and Scope 3 calculations

In an era where sustainability has become a critical global concern, businesses are increasingly recognising the need to assess and mitigate their impact on the environment.  


One key aspect gaining prominence in corporate sustainability strategies is the calculation of Scope 3 emissions – and even more recently, Product Carbon Footprints (PCFs). These metrics go beyond the traditional focus on direct emissions (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from energy consumption (Scope 2), providing a comprehensive view of a company's entire supply chain and production processes.


In this article, we will explore the importance of businesses carrying out Scope 3 calculations and PCFs in the pursuit of a greener and more sustainable future, as well as how the two concepts link together to provide a more accurate hotspot analysis. 


Introduction to Product Carbon Footprints (PCFs) 


A PCF represents the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the entire lifecycle of a specific product. This includes emissions from raw material extraction, manufacturing processes, transportation and end-of-life disposal. By conducting a thorough PCF analysis, businesses gain meaningful insights into the carbon impact of their products, which is crucial for making informed decisions aimed at reducing GHGs and enhancing overall sustainability. 


Benefits of PCFs: 


  • Risk mitigation: Understanding the carbon footprint of products helps businesses identify potential risks associated with regulatory changes, resource scarcity and shifting consumer preferences. For example, by starting to footprint at product level, businesses are better prepared to collate information relating to incoming regulations such as CBAM.  

  • Consumer trust and loyalty: Modern consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious and are inclined to support businesses that align with their values. By transparently communicating product carbon footprints, companies can build trust and loyalty among conscious consumers, gaining a competitive edge in the market. 

  • Operational cost savings: Analysing product carbon footprints often reveals areas of inefficiency in the supply chain. By identifying and addressing these inefficiencies, businesses can streamline operations, reduce waste and lower overall emissions, leading to cost savings and improved resource management. 

  • Driving decarbonisation action: Undertaking carbon footprinting at product level, companies are able to take more precise decisions to minimise the carbon impact of their manufacturing processes. 


Introduction to Scope 3 emissions and supply chain transparency 

Scope 1, 2 and 3 categories

Scope 3 emissions encompass indirect emissions that occur along a company's entire value chain, including both upstream and downstream activities. This includes emissions from purchased goods and services, transportation and distribution, and even the use and disposal of products by end-users.  


By understanding and accounting for Scope 3 emissions, businesses can identify areas where they have the most significant impact and collaborate with suppliers and partners to implement effective emission reduction strategies.  


Importance of Scope 3 calculations: 


  • Complete environmental impact: Scope 3 calculations provide a comprehensive view of a company's entire value chain, allowing businesses to understand and address their broader environmental impact. This holistic perspective is crucial for developing effective sustainability strategies that extend beyond internal operations. Calculating Scope 3 emissions is essential for achieving true supply chain transparency. 

  • Collaborative initiatives: Many Scope 3 emissions are embedded in a company's supply chain. By quantifying these emissions, businesses can engage with suppliers, distributors and customers to collaboratively reduce the overall carbon footprint. This collaborative approach fosters a culture of sustainability throughout the entire business ecosystem. 

  • Emission reduction: Identifying and quantifying Scope 3 emissions unveils opportunities for emission reductions that might otherwise go unnoticed. In fact, Scope 3 often makes up the majority of an organisation’s footprint. This knowledge enables businesses to prioritise initiatives with the most significant impact, maximising their efforts to achieve meaningful sustainability goals


How are Scope 3 calculations and PCFs linked? 


The link between organisational Scope 3 emissions and product emissions depends on what a business does with its products. First, let’s look at their definitions again: 


  • Product Carbon Footprint (PCF): Measures the total GHGs associated with a product throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. It encompasses direct emissions and indirect emissions specific to the product's life cycle. 

  • Scope 3 emissions: Considers all indirect emissions that occur in a business’s value chain, including upstream and downstream activities. It provides a holistic view of an organisation's environmental impact, going beyond its direct operations (Scope 1 and Scope 2). 


For businesses that manufacture and sell products, the emissions calculated in a PCF will map onto certain sub-categories of Scope 3. These are typically: 

  • 3.1 (purchased goods and services) 

  • 3.2 (capital goods) 

  • 3.4 (upstream transportation) 

  • 3.9 (downstream transportation) 

  • 3.10 (processing of sold products) 

  • 3.11 (use of sold products) 

  • 3.12 (end-of-life treatment of sold products) 


For businesses who operate their products rather than sell them, the mapping is less impactful on Scope 3, typically affecting 3.1, 3.2 and 3.4. The emissions used through life are then captured in an organisation’s Scope 1 and 2. 


So, why conduct both Scope 3 and product carbon calculations? 


There are several strategic benefits to carrying out truly comprehensive carbon accounting, which includes both Scope 3 emissions and product footprints: 


  • Regulatory compliance: Incorporating both PCFs and Scope 3 emissions in sustainability strategies ensures that businesses are better positioned to meet evolving regulatory standards – the UK CBAM for example. Taking a proactive and thorough approach to value chain carbon reporting minimises the risk of non-compliance with environmental regulations in the future.  

  • Supply chain and production savings: Scope 3 calculations, with PCFs, help identify emission hotspots in the supply chain with a higher degree of accuracy. This information is valuable for businesses seeking to optimise their production processes, work with specific suppliers to reduce emissions, and make informed choices about sourcing and transportation. 

  • Stakeholder communication: Communicating both Scope 3 emissions and PCF assessments demonstrates a commitment to a full understanding of the environmental impact of a manufacturing business. This transparency enhances a company's credibility, which is essential for engaging stakeholders, building trust, and attracting conscious consumers.  

  • Action and continuous improvement: It’s only by analysing data at product level and mapping the PCF emissions onto the organisational ledger that the macro impact of products can be understood. This enables better decisions to be taken to decarbonise a manufacturing business, and this data-driven insight allows businesses to adapt strategies, incorporate new technologies and stay aligned with sustainability goals more easily. 


In summary, together, Scope 3 calculations interlinked with PCFs provides a much more comprehensive view of a business's carbon impact, facilitating better informed strategic decision-making when it comes to supply chain optimisation, regulatory compliance and transparent communication with stakeholders.  


How can technology help to connect Scope 3 and product emissions? 


The task of Scope 3 mapping alone can be overwhelming and difficult for organisations with limited resources. This is why leveraging technology is crucial for businesses aiming to integrate Scope 3 emissions and PCF calculations seamlessly: 


  • Streamlined data collection: Platforms that streamline the collection of relevant data points throughout the entire supply chain are valuable. This includes help with requesting information needed for PCF assessments, such as raw materials, manufacturing processes, transportation and end-of-life disposal. In addition, these platforms provide one “source of truth” – something often overlooked but highly useful when it comes to housing data that has been collected from several suppliers.  

  • Automated carbon calculations: Carbon accounting software takes away the manual burden from carbon management, including selecting relevant emissions factors and carrying out data analyses. These platforms are built to process vast amounts of data quickly and identify patterns, trends and areas for improvement. In addition, some can even help with Net Zero planning and use modelling to help businesses forecast potential emissions and optimise their supply chain for sustainability. 

  • Product emissions mapping: Tools that facilitate PCF assessments are useful because they allow businesses to evaluate the environmental impact of their products comprehensively in just a few clicks – saving significant time and resources compared to manual calculations. These tools can guide users through the process, making it easier to identify and quantify GHGs at each stage of the product life cycle, which can then be mapped to the organisational footprint and allocated to the correct Scope 3 category automatically. For someone less experienced in carbon accounting, doing this manually would be near impossible and likely end up with errors. 

  • Real-time reporting dashboards: Carbon management platforms have intuitive dashboards that provide real-time insights into Scope 3 emissions. These visualisations make data analytics accessible to users who may not have environmental expertise, and the performance insights gained can help businesses monitor progress, identify areas for improvement and communicate their sustainability achievements effectively.  


Our solution to Scope 3 and product emissions 


As businesses continue to navigate the complex landscape of sustainability, integrating both Scope 3 and product carbon calculations is crucial for achieving effective environmental management. Beyond regulatory compliance, these initiatives contribute to building consumer trust, enhancing operational efficiency and fostering a culture of sustainability that is vital for the long-term success of businesses in a rapidly changing world.  


We can help accelerate your sustainability journey! Our carbon accounting software streamlines Scope 3 carbon calculations, product footprint analysis and Net Zero target tracking, enabling businesses to decarbonise with confidence.  


And don’t worry if you think you don’t yet have the right data. For both Scope 3 and product emissions, we have made it possible to start with whatever data you have available – this means you can have an idea of your carbon hotspots right away, whilst working to improve your data collection and quality over time.   


What are you waiting for?! Reach out to our expert team if you would like to find out more about how we can help your business. 

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