Ability of carbon footprint to reflect the environmental burden of a product or service – an empirical study

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    In the context of a global awareness of the climate change, carbon footprint (CFP) has recently become extensively used as a simple way to sensitize not only consumers in their purchasing behaviours but also public opinion in general. However, limitations in its environmental representativeness arise if one decides to expand the outlook to include other environmental impacts, which are commonly evaluated in Life Cycle Assessments (LCA). In that perspective, over 500 products/services and two concrete cases are investigated, using the EDIP-methodology and the USEtoxTM-based toxicity-related impacts, each one updated with the latest set of characterization factors and with normalization references for the emission year 2004. Outcome of the study shows that carbon footprinting coincides well with the LCA-based global warming assessment, though divergences rise whenever NMVOC show a significant contribution in the inventory. Among other impact categories, especially the toxicity-related impacts do not correlate and show significant differences to carbon footprint results. Despite the fact that carbon footprint is a first step towards a more “environmental friendly” policy, its implications shall therefore be nuanced as they might overlook other environmentally-relevant impacts and lead to possible misinterpretations, if for instance a product presenting low CO2 emissions is qualified as “green”, even though its true environmental burden is high due to the contribution of other impacts (e.g. human toxicity).
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2010
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    Event20th SETAC Europe Annual Meeting: Science and Technology for Environmental Protection - Sevilla, Spain
    Duration: 23 May 201027 May 2010


    Conference20th SETAC Europe Annual Meeting


    • environmental burden
    • USEtox
    • representativeness
    • Carbon footprint


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