Everything we do emits CO2! When driving a fuel-burning car emissions are quite obvious. Sitting at a table - maybe a bit less. But someone had to cut down a tree, the tree needed to be transported to the production site, the tree was sawn into boards, which were then made into your table. All these steps need energy and tools, which in turn caused emissions during their manufacturing. And all these emissions add up to what we call a carbon footprint: The mark these products leave behind on the climate.
In other terms, a product carbon footprint represents the greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by a product. It takes the whole life cycle into account from raw materials and production to shipping and use as well as the end-of-life treatment. This way no contribution to climate change - be it negative or positive - is swept under the carpet or forgotten.
As a result, the carbon footprint of different products can be compared. And if there is a change somewhere in the life cycle, it is possible to detect whether that change is for the better or just shifts the problem. Shifting may cause even bigger problems outweighing the positive impact when looking at the whole picture. As an example, let’s say our car fossil car is now battery powered. On the positive side, the car can now use renewable energy instead of burning fossil fuels. On the negative side the production of a battery and electric motor is more energy intensive than a combustion motor. Looking at the whole life cycle of the electric car - which is exactly what the carbon footprint does - the battery car outperforms the fossil car in the use phase, resulting in a lower total carbon emission!
The measure of carbon footprint is kg CO2e. The small "e" stands for "equivalents". This is because there are many greenhouse gases apart from CO2. For better comparison the weight of all gases is converted to how many kgs of CO2 would be needed to get the same effect on climate change. The calculation is regulated for example by the norm ISO 14067.
The first goal should always be to reduce the carbon footprint because CO2 that is not emitted in the first place is best for the climate. Strategies might include shortening transportation distances, a switch to renewable energy, using less material or generate less waste.
The next best thing to not emitting is to compensate. It is not possible to have a zero carbon footprint without a little bit of help. For compensation there are essentially two strategies. The first is to remove CO2 out of the atmosphere. Plants are great natural partners, as they suck CO2 out of the atmosphere while growing. Additionally restoring forests and other green areas has a positive impact on biodiversity as well. The second option is to prevent the emission of CO2 e.g. by funding the replacements of fossil energy with renewable energy.
With compensation it is possible to reduce one’s carbon footprint, by creating a positive effect on climate change to countereffect the negative impact of the CO2 emissions. We even went one step further and are compensating more than we need so the footprint of our cases is negative. Or in other words climate positive.
For our CO2-compensation we are working together with naturefund, a nonprofit that reforests and protects valuble habitats. In Costa Rica they are planting trees to establish a forest bridge between to existing national Parks. This does not only capture and binds CO2 but also boosts the biodiversity!
Our carbon compensation partner Naturefund plants trees in Costa Rica to reforest old pastures and establish a forest bridge
Now to Us
To know how much to compensate, we need to know how big the footprint of our cases, our office and even your phone #compensationoption is. The hardest part about calculating our product footprint was to find suitable data source. The data we used was taken from publicly available sources such as reports from governmental environmental agencies, producer's associations and research papers as well as the Life Cycle Assessment databases PEF and ProBas. We will be updating our calculation when better data becomes available to improve our results. Thus, the final score is the best, conservative estimation, that is possible at this stage.
Without further ado, here are the results: One kepu case causes an average of 0,167 kg CO2e or 167 g CO2e.
Where does it come from? 84 % comes from the case itself and 16 % stems from the packaging. Looking at the life cycle phases; a big chunk is from raw materials with the two main materials the biopolymer and the carton for packaging making up most. About a quarter is caused during the production. As the cases are quite light and we try to limit transportation distances the transport makes up less than 1%. The use phase also has quite little impact, as the cases need no energy and only little maintenance. The end-of-life is modelled as incineration, as this is most likely the most common way of treatment. Just for comparison composting would reduce the footprint by 18 g and recycling as a new phone case material by a whopping 30 g.
We estimate the footprint for our office for 2020 at 2,5 t CO2e. With about 75%, the biggest part comes from the building and the heating of our office. Smaller shares are for the IT infrastructure as well as business travel and commute. The latter is especially small, as we commute by bike and try to limit business trips as much as possible. Thanks to Covid and video calls this has been quite easy in 2020.
The biggest impact to improve our footprint is a change to renewable energy in our production. Here we want to encourage and work together with our production partners. The second goal is to increase the recycling rate of our biopolymers. For this we also need your help. When you send us back your old cases we can make beautiful new ones out of them 😊