What is a carbon footprint estimate?
A carbon footprint is an estimate of a product’s environmental footprint. Carbon footprint estimates are expressed as a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), a unit of measurement which represents all major greenhouse gases. In doing so, CO2e indicates a product’s total global warming potential.
We choose to account for the entire life cycle of a product, which means we estimate everything from material extraction, to production and final disposal. This is what’s called a cradle-to-grave analysis (excluding transport to the final consumer). This is also why the process of measuring a carbon footprint estimate is often referred to as a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
Note: A product’s effect on climate change is often equated to its environmental impact. But products can have other harmful effects on the environment, such as chemicals from manufacturing leaching into water supplies. These effects aren’t captured by carbon footprint estimates.
How to use CO2e data
Your carbon footprint helps you to understand the impact of your decisions on the climate. When you start configuring a product, you'll instantly see the carbon footprint estimate of that product.
There are a handful of ways in which you can use this data to better understand your product and make more impactful decisions:
Use the indicative percentages (%) against each attribute choice to understand the prospective impact of each decision. This percentage represents the difference between your current product configuration and the other options available.
Use the rating scale (green to amber), where available, to understand how well you’re doing. The scale will show you how your current product compares to other possible configurations.
Click the ‘Learn more about your carbon footprint' link to see how the carbon footprint of your product breaks down across each stage of its life cycle. And to better understand where the biggest impact lies.
Visit each product’s page to dive deeper into every stage of its life cycle and see a breakdown of its materials.
What contributes to a product’s carbon footprint?
You can see a breakdown of your carbon footprint by clicking ‘Learn more about your carbon footprint’ in the configurator.
Use this breakdown to understand what makes up your footprint and which stages of the life cycle contribute the most. There are five core processes in the breakdown:
Materials - the impact of producing and transporting the materials used to manufacture the product.
Production - the impact of the manufacturing processes and energy used to produce the finished product. These processes include printing, cutting and glueing.
Secondary packaging - the impact of producing the materials used to safely pack and transport the product.
Transport - the impact of transporting the product from the supplier to your business's delivery location (this excludes final delivery to the consumer as this is outside of our boundary and we have no agency over it). This includes all road, air and sea freight.
End of Life - the impact of recycling, disposing of the product and any waste material from the manufacturing process.
You can find more details on each of these stages when you click on the individual product pages in Shop.
How do Sourceful estimate these carbon footprints?
We work with each supplier to build a carbon footprint model for their specific product and for all the variants available for that product on our platform. For mailer box and shipping box, for example, there are billions of variants, whilst for tapes there are hundreds.
For each component, we combine manufacturer information with data from established impact databases such as ecoinvent and the UK government GHG Conversion factors for company reporting. Examples include the typical emissions of a container ship or the typical emissions for each individual chemical component of an ink.
This information is used to build the parametrised model, which we then share with each manufacturer so they can sign-off all assumptions and datasets. This is to ensure that what we’ve built is a reliable representation of their product.
Learn more about the ISO independent critical review of our methodology here.
Where do you get your data from?
Sourceful’s Impact Engine leverages data from a range of sources, depending on what is needed. The majority of our emission factors come from ecoinvent (cut-off system model), whilst the majority of our end of life allocations come from UK Government (DEFRA) statistics on UK waste disposal. And the majority of our transport emission factors come from UK government GHG Conversion factors for company reporting.
The information on materials, manufacturing processes, locations and transport types is all provided by and signed-off by our individual suppliers.
Our calculations approach is based on the Environmental Footprint (EF) 3.0 method, an initiative of the European Commission. The data we publish is for the Global Warming Potential (CO2e) impact category.
How is your relative performance scale calculated?
Viewing a carbon footprint number in isolation makes it difficult to understand how well you’re doing. That’s why we’ve designed a scale to show you where your current configuration ranks against other possible configurations.
Mailer box is a good example to illustrate how this scale was calculated. We took a sample of 15,000 mailer box configurations, all with different attribute choices and order quantities, and put these into four size buckets.
We then estimated the carbon footprint for each and used this information to identify the distribution within each size bucket. To make this a relevant comparison, we normalised each box to measure impact (CO2e) per metre-cubed of volume.
By doing this, we can then place any configuration you build in one of these buckets. And we can show how it ranks within that bucket, based on its normalised (impact per metre-cubed) score. Finally, based on the distribution of results within that bucket, we can tell you what percentage of boxes your configuration is lower than.
How are these benchmarks calculated?
The benchmarks have been calculated to provide an estimate for what it could be like to purchase a similar product outside of Sourceful. They’re not designed to be definitive comparisons. They instead provide an indication of how big the difference could be given a specific scenario.
They've been defined differently for each product, to reflect the fact that the product substitutes differ. They use the models we have built for Sourceful product’s, to which we make an adjustment and study the affects.
Learn more about our specific assumptions here.
Why trust this data?
We collect and quality-assess primary data from manufacturers, to use as inputs along with internationally recognised data sources. This means our carbon footprint data is specific to the products and suppliers we feature on our platform.
Our LCA methodology is backed by leading experts, and reviewed by an independent panel of scientists. The panellists (Ellen Meijer, Dr. Aiduan Borrion and Max Sonnen) have confirmed that our methodology conforms to established International Standards (ISO 14040 and 14044).
With this framework, we can produce best efforts carbon footprint estimates with confidence and with the backing of leading experts in the field. Learn more.
The following product LCA models are pending sign-off with the supplier, meaning some assumptions are subject to change. Whilst the models have been intensively reviewed by our in-house LCA experts, this means the carbon footprints for these products don’t yet fully conform to our ISO-aligned methodology.
Why do carbon footprint estimates matter?
Estimating the carbon footprint of products is important for several reasons:
It allows businesses to compare options and leverage robust environmental impact data in decision-making, not just cost.
It enables businesses to quantify their impact and build a baseline against which they can measure progress.
It makes it possible for businesses to identify opportunities for improving their environmental impact.
Learn more about the importance and value of high-quality data in the fight against climate change here.
Known limitations to Sourceful's methodology
Our CO2e impact data is intended to act as a best-efforts estimation of a product’s carbon footprint (CO2e). A best-efforts estimate is designed to represent a reasonable estimate of the product’s carbon footprint, based on a consistent LCA process. As in the case of any LCA, the estimate may not always reflect reality.
Our CO2e impact data reflects to our best knowledge an estimate of the impacts, based on a consistent ISO-conformant Life Cycle Assessment methodology. Data inputs and assumptions have been reviewed with each manufacturer to confirm that the modelling choices are representative. Whilst we validate this information for robustness and plausibility using certifications or third-party data sources (such as industry average data), this is subject to potential error.
The methodology is designed to report Global Warming Potential (GWP) estimates on the Sourceful platform. Please note that carbon footprint is a common indicator of a product’s environmental footprint, but climate change is not the only type of impact that affects the environmental impact of a product.
The locations and behaviours of the final customer of our products are not known, given we supply first to businesses. This is an inherent limitation of our business model. As a result, the transport of the packaging to the end consumer is omitted. To mitigate the uncertainty on the final customer location, we made a simplifying assumption that the customer is UK-based. And so we’re able to estimate end of life from standard UK assumptions on disposal.
This is not an exhaustive list of limitations.