The earth is overheating and climate change is driving all meteorological data from one record to the next. The unbridled overexploitation of nature and the rampant burning of fossil fuels such as oil or coal are now having visible and frightening consequences. Humans are trying to counteract this and change their behavior. The term "sustainability" has become synonymous with the fight against climate change. Products and services are now measured by how sustainable they are, or in colloquial terms, how green their footprint is. What is included in the green footprint and can it be measured and compared at all?
It all depends on the limits
When considering the green footprint of a product or service, the entire product life cycle should be considered. This means that all material and energy flows should be included in the calculation, from creation through use to disposal. An internationally used method is known as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
In an LCA, the first step is to define the target and the accounting framework. Often, the entire life cycle is not considered, but only parts of it. Basically, the following system boundaries are distinguished:
Cradle-to-grave: from the extraction of raw materials to production, application, possible recycling and final disposal.
Cradle-to-gate: from the extraction of raw materials through production in the plant to the producer's company gateway
Cradle-to-cradle: considers a complete circular economy
An important parameter in LCA is the functional unit. It defines the reference value that enables comparisons to be made. Examples are numbers of units or mass data in kg or tons.
Data is the be-all and end-all
The essential basis of an LCA, after defining the system boundaries, is the collection of data relevant to the defined scope of the study. This includes data on energy flow (e.g., electricity, heat) or material flow (raw materials, intermediates, or waste), process information (efficiencies, losses, etc.) or product use information (e.g., application, maintenance, service life), and end-of-life information (processing method, disposal, recycling).
In a further phase of the LCA, the data obtained is linked to specific impact indicators in order to be able to determine the environmental impacts. Different emissions, such as SO2 or CH4, are converted into CO2 equivalents in order to make their environmentally damaging potential comparable. For example, 1 kg of nitrous oxide (N2O) corresponds to 310 kg of CO2 equivalent.
Is sustainability just a fig leaf for the economy?
No, it isn't. Companies that invest in sustainability and make the not inconsiderable effort of carrying out a life cycle assessment study, e.g. in the form of an LCA, not only improve their image but are also able to identify optimization potential, save resources and energy and reduce the negative environmental impact of their product thanks to the comprehensive and detailed analysis of their production process.
Turning the tide in steel production
Exemplary change: With the SALCOS project, the Salzgitter steel and technology group is planning a new era in steel production.
Up to now, annual production at the Salzgitter site has generated around 8 million tons of CO2. The Group plans to save 95% of these emissions by converting steel production and using green hydrogen. Self-supply with energy from wind and closing material cycles by recycling residual materials and by-products are also part of the project.
Many other steel producers are working on the concept of direct reduction with hydrogen to cut CO2 emissions. For example, thyssenkrupp Steel plans to convert its steel mill in Duisburg by the end of 2026. The special feature of the concept is that a large part of the existing plant structure will be retained and direct reduction will be optimally integrated. Thanks to this measure, thyssenkrupp Steel expects annual CO2 savings at the Duisburg site of over 3.5 million tons.
Transparency is the key to success
Europe's biggest independent steel trader has been offering its customers a special service since the beginning of the year: CO2 transparency for almost all 200,000 products in the Group's portfolio. Customers of Klöckner can now have the so-called CO2 footprint of their purchased product delivered at the same time.
Klöckner sees the trade in certified low-emission or zero-emission products as a necessary step towards a green value chain in industry. Creating transparency for customers was a particular concern of the company. This was preceded by intensive preparatory work. Over the course of a year, emissions were determined across the entire value and supply chain of the respective product. Against the background of global supply chains, this was a truly Herculean task.
Consumers today are paying more attention than ever to the issues of climate, environment and sustainability, which is influencing their consumption and purchasing behavior to an ever greater extent. Committing to sustainability as a producer today not only promotes efficiency in production processes. It also creates a culture of innovation within the company and improves risk management so that changes can be responded to more quickly and in a more targeted manner. And in the end, it creates the competitive advantages that can make all the difference in today's world.
The green footprint is becoming a symbol of a responsible approach to nature. Climate change and its effects are a reminder to all of us to address this issue. It's five to twelve and it's not too late.
ecoMetals: pioneers of sustainability
How "green" is the wire, cable, pipe and tube processing industry? ecoMetals is the name of Messe Düsseldorf's new initiative that provides a forum for drivers of environmentally friendly products, production and processes.