With COP28 just around the corner, Katherine Agapitos, chair of Together for Sustainability scope 3 GHG emissions programme, discusses why decarbonisation in the chemical sector is crucial, the challenges facing chemical companies and using product carbon footprint guidelines as a solution.

As we approach COP28, the world’s attention is once again focused on the urgent need to combat climate change. The world is at a critical juncture, and industries across the globe must step up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including the target of reducing global emissions by 45% by 2030. Among these industries, the chemical sector plays a pivotal role. It is the backbone of the global economy, with countless sectors dependent on its processes and products. But chemical companies also generate a large amount of GHG emissions, and to meet these ambitious climate goals, the sector must undergo a profound transformation.

Calculating emissions from ’cradle to gate’

Together for Sustainability (TfS), a global initiative led by the chemical sector with 50 members that include some of the world’s largest chemical groups, is dedicated to decarbonising the industry’s supply chain. This is critical yet complex, as measuring emissions accurately and comprehensively is a difficult task due to the intricate and varied nature of chemical processes, whether making plastics to producing paint.

Product carbon footprints (PCFs) offer a solution to this challenge. A PCF is the carbon footprint of a product from ‘cradle to gate’, providing the total sum of GHG emissions of products. PCFs help to quantify and manage carbon emissions, particularly indirect emissions arising from the supply chain, known as scope 3.

We see great value in applying the TfS PCF guideline to understand scope 3 emissions across our entire supply chain – and to promote emissions reduction and sustainability more widely

Doerte Lorenz, director of sustainable procurement at LyondellBasell

In September 2022, TfS launched the PCF guideline, a detailed step-by-step guide for chemical suppliers to calculate the carbon footprint of their products. The first of its kind for the chemical industry, the PCF guideline offers specific guidance on PCF calculation requirements for each chemical material. It harmonises PCF calculation approaches across the industry and helps identify the factors that generate the highest emissions. In the future, this will allow consumers and the wider market to directly compare and assess the climate impact of different products.

Putting the PCF guideline into practice

To demonstrate how the PCF guideline works in practice, we can use the example of citric acid – a widely used chemical in the food, cleaning and cosmetic industries. Calculating the PCF of citric acid involves considering emissions from the cultivation and harvesting of raw materials (eg, citrus fruits), the energy and resources consumed during production, and whether clean or fossil fuel sources were used to generate electricity.

One of the key strengths of the PCF guideline is its ability to address the unique challenges posed by the chemical industry. Chemical manufacturing is often a complex web of processes with multiple stages and diverse feedstock sources. The guideline provides the necessary methodologies and data sources to accurately account for these complexities, ensuring that emissions calculations are both rigorous and relevant.

The adoption of the PCF guideline offers several benefits for chemical manufacturers and suppliers, including:

  1. Accurate scope 3 emissions measurement. By using the PCF guideline, companies can measure their scope 3 emissions, which represent an estimated 77% of the sector’s carbon footprint. This knowledge empowers companies to set informed targets and take meaningful actions to reduce their emissions and environmental impact.
  2. Improved supply chain transparency. The PCF guideline promotes transparency within supply chains. Companies can trace the carbon footprint of their products back to specific processes and suppliers, allowing for more informed decisions and the identification of opportunities for emission reductions.
  3. Harmonised processes and efficiency. TfS is working on an IT solution that will streamline and automate the process of PCF data sharing between TfS members and their suppliers, making the process more efficient and consistent across the industry. This harmonisation enhances the comparability of PCFs, enabling companies to measure progress against an established baseline and facilitate discussions on emissions-reduction opportunities.

An inspector wearing PPE checking a manufacturing environrment

Source: © Together for Sustainability

Chemical manufacturing is a complex web of processes, logistics and materials. The PCF guideline provides companies with the tools and data to navigate these complexities, ensuring that emissions calculations are both rigorous and relevant.

Over the past year, members of TfS have begun implementing the guideline. Doerte Lorenz, director of sustainable procurement at LyondellBasell and TfS coordinator, said: ‘At LyondellBasell, we use the TfS PCF guideline as a standardised industry approach to calculate product carbon footprints. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is a crucial sustainability goal for us, and working with our suppliers to understand carbon emissions at the product level is one of the most important strategies to achieve our scope 3 emissions reduction targets. We see great value in applying the TfS PCF guideline to understand scope 3 emissions across our entire supply chain – and to promote emissions reduction and sustainability more widely.’

Dr Sascha Ceylan, head of sustainability for risk, compliance and procurement at Evonik and co-chair of TfS’ governance and partnerships workstream, said: ‘Evonik is committed to reducing scope 3 emissions, with a major focus on raw materials. To achieve this, comparable and reliable data is essential. The TfS PCF guideline sets a global standard for high-quality product carbon footprint calculations. Evonik encourages suppliers to adopt this guideline and uses it consistently for its own product calculations. By promoting this standard to customers, Evonik is working towards a more sustainable future for the chemical industry.’

A chemical formula for a sustainable future

As we prepare for COP28, the imperative to decarbonise chemical supply chains becomes increasingly evident.

With the right tools in place, the responsibility now lies with chemical companies and adjacent industries to embrace sustainable practices, and to use resources such as the PCF guideline to kickstart their decarbonisation journey. By taking this crucial step, we can ensure that the chemical sector not only remains the backbone of the global economy, but also a driving force behind a sustainable and resilient future.

To learn more about the PCF Guideline and its implementation, visit the Together for Sustainability website.

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