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Beyond Carbon Footprints: the Plastics Industry’s Eco-Profile


This article highlights PlasticsEurope’s vision of developing the Eco-footprint: a ground breaking methodology of measuring a product’s impact on the environment. The article has been written to support the chat with Isidro Quiroga in May 2009.

What if there was no way to measure a product’s environmental impact? If this was the case, we would only be able to guess whether something actually polluted the environment or if its impact was negligible. When the industrial revolution was in its heyday in the 19th century, there were observations that the pollution from industries affected the air and the water, but nobody thought that it could have wider implications, such as increasing the temperature or causing a drought in a far away country. We know better now, but the average consumers are not as informed as they could be.

If we do not take care and make sure that we produce and consume in a sustainable way, the planet earth is in big trouble. Above all, we still lack a credible, easily understandable and fully inclusive method to measure a product’s impact.

What we have today is a plethora of different measurements and methods such as carbon footprint, water footprint, sustainability appraisal, social footprint and cradle-to-cradle certification. Of these, the dominant method in the public mind is the carbon footprint. However as with all single-indicator methods, it has a significant weakness in that it only measures one impact. It often does not take into account that some materials, such as plastics, helps saving more fossil fuels during its use phase than was needed during its production.

A truly balanced and meaningful method must attempt to include a variety of indicators, such as: Climate Change (including Global Warming Potential), ozone depletion, acidification, nutrification, resource depletion, toxicity, land use and water. Above all, to be useful the end result must be clearly understandable by consumers.

With this in mind, PlasticsEurope has launched a consultation worshop to involve renowned experts and academics in the development of the Eco-footprint: an entirely new tool that builds on existing work to deliver a scientifically-sound yet easily-communicable methodology. The consultation workshop on eco-footprint is part of the ongoing work of PlasticsEurope’s Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection Action Team.

The plastics industry is serious about sustainability – in 2007 it commissioned a Futurologist (Ray Hammond – who has also hosted a FuturEnergia chat, in September 2007) to write a report about the challenges the world will face in 2030. In response to this report the industry has organised three Industry Action Teams to identify solutions the plastics industry can provide to these important challenges.

The members of these teams are some of the industry’s best young engineers. One of these Teams, the Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection Action Team was responsible for initiating the PlasticsEurope work on the Eco-Footprint.

Since the industry action teams are working on finding innovative solutions for the future, it is essential that PlasticsEurope receive input from students. An excellent way to do this is by participating in the FuturEnergia competitions. This ensures that your idea receives attention from students all over Europe. Participation in the competitions also enables you to win great prices and it helps you in understanding the subject even better.

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