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Greenhouse gas emissions - ISO 14067 to enable worldwide comparability of carbon footprint data

by Herbert Hirner on
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In 2010, over 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere worldwide – that is an enormous amount of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. The upcoming International Standard ISO 14067, Carbon footprint of products – Requirements and guidelines for quantification and communication, is being developed to increase transparency in quantifying and reporting CO2 emissions over the entire lifecycle of products and services – from production to recycling or waste disposal. The document is currently at the stage of Draft International Standard (DIS) and expected to be finalized for publication in March 2014.

In addition to lifecycle analysis, the new standard will focus on greenhouse gases, globally the most important environmental factor, and ensure that carbon footprint data will become comparable worldwide for the first time. ISO 14067 will also be consistent with other standards such as ISO 14025 (environmental labels and declarations), ISO 14044 (lifecycle assessment) and BSI PAS 2050 (specification for the assessment of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services).

Significant anthropogenic influences

In its synthesis report on climate change published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the climate system is unequivocally warming. This is evidenced by observations of an increase in globally averaged air and sea temperatures, extensive melting of snow and ice as well as a rise in the mean global sea level. As a result, millions of people are threatened with losing their homes and livelihoods because of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

In 1972 – already 40 years ago – the Club of Rome alarmed the public with its forecasts on “ The Limits to Growth ”. By 2005, it had become evident that humans have a significant impact on climate change through greenhouse gas emissions – a fact recognized by the eight leading industrialized nations (G8) at their summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, that year. The G8 summit was also attended by representatives from developing and newly industrialized countries, such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico, and from numerous international organizations.

In addition, the G8 leaders agreed on an action plan for climate protection measures, and recognized the Kyoto Protocol as a potential regulating mechanism for market-based incentive systems.

Carbon footprint reveals polluters

To effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one must first identify their sources. The carbon footprint concept highlights the contribution of individual products to the greenhouse effect. Attempts were made to draw up a kind of balance sheet by adding up all the carbon dioxide emissions caused by a product throughout its lifecycle.

carbon footprint

Thus, numerous assessment models have been developed in recent years. However, there were no suitable tools for comparing these classifications, no agreement on a common terminology, nor were the assessments generated sufficiently documented to allow for objective analyses.

Comparing data, communicating quickly

Now, for the first time, ISO 14067 will enable the quantification of CO2 emissions over the entire lifecycle of products and services, and ensure that the relevant values become comparable worldwide.

The standard also covers communication of carbon footprint data to consumers. Communication tools of claim, label and declaration used by ISO to date are complemented by an external communication report (ECR) and a carbon footprint performance report (CFPR).

While the existing tools require time-consuming studies or programmes, the ECR and CFPR serve to provide consumers with rapid, traceable and, hence, reliable information that depends less on quantification.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Klaus Radunsky, department head at Umweltbundesamt (Environment Agency Austria) Austria’s representative in the World Climate Council, and Convenor of the ISO working group that is developing ISO 14067, explains : “ This new standard is certainly a milestone. ISO 14067 is a very important tool for obtaining a good indication of areas in which greenhouse gases can be reduced. On the other hand, the standard can help raise awareness of this issue. After all, the decarbonization of our economy eventually depends very strongly on individual consumption decisions.”

Benefits of ISO 14067

How can manufacturers and service providers benefit from ISO 14067 ? Put simply, they can identify the lifecycle processes that significantly contribute to the carbon footprint of a product or service in an initial screening. Then, they can take targeted measures to reduce emissions and raise the efficiency of the value creation chain.

Thanks to the new standard, this optimized carbon footprint can be communicated to consumers through traceable information. As a result, consumers will have all the quality information required for assessing a product.

ISO 14067, developed by 107 experts from more than 30 countries, makes reliable and comparable parameters available to enterprises and consumers. This is a significant preparatory step towards the reduction of CO2 emissions worldwide. ISO experts, however, are already considering further actions.

“The next goal would be a ‘ personal carbon footprint ’. Just imagine the dynamism that can be created if companies pursue the objective of manufacturing the product with the smallest carbon footprint,” says Dr. Radunsky.

Klaus Radunsky
Klaus Radunsky
Klaus Radunsky

Nobel Peace Laureate,
Head of a department

Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environment Agency)

Vienna, Austria

Herbert Hirner
Herbert Hirner
Herbert Hirner
Freelance journalist
Austria