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Environmental Footprinting of Products and Materials

Assessing environmental impacts

A product environmental footprint is an assessment of the environmental impacts or benefits of a product that occur across the entire “life cycle” of producing and using the product. Everything that's produced has some environmental impact — the resources used and pollutants released over the life of the product, including:

  • producing raw materials to make the product,
  • processing and transporting those materials,
  • manufacturing the product,
  • packaging, transporting and selling it,
  • using the product, and finally
  • recycling or disposing of the product and it's packaging.

Product footprint assessments are sometimes called “life cycle assessments” (LCAs). If focusing on one specific environmental issue, they might be called a product carbon footprint, water footprint, etc. Carbon footprint is the most common type of footprint, but businesses are exploring other types of footprints as well, addressing issues such as the water used to make products, or the toxic chemicals released over their life.

Putting assessments to good use

The purpose of such an assessment is usually to understand where the most important impacts are within the product life cycle, so that efforts to reduce the environmental impact can be efficiently targeted. These assessments can also be used to:

  • compare the relative environmental impact or benefit of various materials or products that serve the same function.
  • quantify potential improvements in the environmental profile of products made through design changes, procurement changes, etc.
  • support decision making within companies
  • communicate this information with customers

Large retailers are requesting more information about product-level environmental impacts from their suppliers. Some other nations are discussing requiring footprints of products sold into their markets, which could impact U.S. businesses.

Results

In 2014, Washington worked with Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality and Sustainability Board and an advisory group of stakeholders from across Washington and Oregon to evaluate the potential benefits and challenges inherent in product-level environmental footprinting.

Evaluation of actions to support product environmental footprinting in the Pacific Northwest
Findings and recommendations from research, surveys, and interviews of business leaders
Appendix A - Survey results (available upon request)
Appendix B - Interview results

Resources

Product Environmental Footprint Research and Advisory Group

Articles about product environmental footprinting:

Examples of Worldwide Product Environmental Footprinting Initiatives (Produced by Quantis)

PEF World Forum - a joint platform set up to foster and facilitate dialogue between international initiatives on how to assess, reduce and communicate the impact of goods and services on the climate.


ADVISORY GROUP

Product Environmental Footprint Research and Advisory Group

Spotlight

PARTNERS

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality - Environmental Footprinting of Products and Materials Program

Oregon Sustainability Board

CONTACT US

Linda Glasier
Pollution Prevention program
linda.glasier
@ecy.wa.gov

360-407-7355