Mapping and planning carbon reduction – an exercise on life cycle assessment

In a world under the growing effects of climate change, the importance of knowing the sources of emissions is key for finding solutions the mitigate them and find the ways to adapt. This generally applies for businesses and organisations, but it is also very useful to map the carbon footprint for every citizen.

In early March, the CIPSEM EM40 class had a workshop on life cycle assessment (LCA) with Helena Ponstein MSc, where we learned about the context for the rise of carbon emissions, the unpredictable consequences of climate change and the significant sustainability constraints we face nowadays. As an example and reminder of these constraints, there is an Earth Overshoot Day, which indicates the exhaustion of replenishable Earth resources that arrives, year after year, in an earlier date than the previous one (last year the date was 8 August 2016).

When the classroom discussed about the effects of climate change in the home countries, some of the consequences mentioned were the increase of floods and coastal erosion, shortages of water or having unpredictable weather trends. Another concern in class was how to make understand with figures the consequences of climate change to decision makers to avoid misconceptions and wrong budget allocations.

After the discussions and the showing of a video on sustainability, we proceeded to learn the details about LCA. In a short explanation, LCA is a methodology that helps understand the effects and impact of product and services from its originated source to its final outcome and post treatment within a boundary, with the aim of mapping the overall impacts and projecting how to manage environmental issues.  Amongst its benefits are the possibility for an improved environmental performance and, ideally, life cycle thinking.

Then, why do companies apply LCA? Some companies do it for internal sustainability goals, green marketing or brand enhancement, but the number of industries that are required by regulation authorities to report carbon footprint is increasing.

For the afternoon, we got involved into the practical part of the day: make our own LCA for an industry and suggesting possible measures to reduce the impact, calculating the equivalent CO2 emissions that fall under the global warming potential. Grouped into teams of four people, we explored with precise figures the amount of emissions and the different costs depending on the country chosen. The exercise was successful as all groups where able to arrive to similar results, and later we discussed the possible mitigation actions.

 

Text: Adrián Lauer with the support of Augusto Mosqueda, EM40 participants

Photos: Adrián Lauer