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Carbon footprint certificate for 'green' crate

Author : By Paul Smith*

25 June 2010

EXCLUSIVE Many people would be surprised to learn a plastics manufacturer is claiming environmental merit for its products. However, LINPAC Allibert, has conducted a lifecycle carbon footprint assessment of the 'Maxinest' tray, to show some plastic is green.

The assessment was undertaken by Sustain, a carbon reduction consultancy and the whole process was verified by independent business assurance provider LRQA.

LINPAC Allibert manufactures the world’s largest range of returnable transit packaging (RTP) including trays, crates, bins, pallets and containers. The Maxinest is a re-usable plastic tray employed in a wide range of industrial sectors, but probably best known for its role in transporting food products to point-of-sale by the UK's major grocery retailers.

Based on each tray performing 92 return trips, of 20 days each, over five years, the carbon footprint of the Maxinest was determined at 26 kgCO2e in total, or 0.0082 kgCO2e per litre per trip. LINPAC believes that this clearly demonstrates the advantages of reusable packaging.

Distribution and retail companies in the food, retail and manufacturing sectors often have to choose between disposable, recyclable or RTP, so the availability of carbon footprint data will help inform that choice.

Project objectives: Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 2050, was published by the British Standards Institution in October 2008 and LINPAC appointed Sustain to conduct the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) assessment, following the requirements of PAS 2050.

Designed to take account of the full life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of products, PAS 2050 provides a standardised methodology to generate consistent and reproducible results. It is also designed to enable comparisons to be made between different products.

However, comparability is still in its infancy and currently confined to the assessment of a product against itself at some different point in time. As more of these PCFs become available, greater comparison will become possible.

More importantly, the process of following PAS 2050 enables organisations to identify 'hot spots' – areas of wastage or excessive energy use – in their manufacturing processes and along the supply chain.

The Maxinest PAS 2050 process: "Independent verification was a fundamentally important feature of the project, so we established contact with LRQA at an early stage to enable the development of a rigorous verification programme. We believe that this was particularly important because there is a great deal of 'greenwash' at play in the market and we were anxious for this assessment to be as robust as possible."

Sustain's work included the collection of data and the provision of advice and support to LINPAC throughout the process. It also included the development of software based rapid PCF assessment tools that enabled LINPAC to evaluate the data and conduct 'what if' scenarios. For example, Mike Hill says, "The choice of 92 trips over five years was a conservative estimate and it was interesting to note that the carbon footprint per trip fell even lower when the life expectancy of the tray increased. The software also enabled a hypothetical evaluation of alternative tray materials, colours and sizes.

Emphasising the importance of verification, Mike added: "PAS 2050 gives a good basis to work from but until an organisation gets the results verified, there will always be those who doubt the process. It’s important that we move towards a verified carbon footprint process so organisations can communicate the results with absolute confidence."

The verification process: It is vital that the verification process is impartial and independent of the PCF assessment. This is an important distinction that differentiates the verifier from the consultant because it is the verifier's responsibility to check that the life cycle model, the data collection processes and the outcome results are correct.

The verification process is conducted in three stages. Firstly, an initial review is undertaken incorporating a strategic analysis and risk assessment of the methodology used to generate the calculated PCF, the life cycle assessment design, the input data and the inclusions or exclusions. It is then possible to evaluate the level of risk to the actual verification process.

The purpose of the second stage is to ensure that the data is relevant, complete, accurate, quality assured, and transparent. A formal verification report is then produced with a recommendation, as appropriate, for certification of conformity to PAS 2050.

The final stage is known as the technical review, which provides a further quality assurance evaluation. This is conducted by a technically competent person that has not been involved in the verification process - in LINPAC's case the Global Climate Change Manager of LRQA.

Following satisfactory completion of the technical review, the certificate of conformity can be issued.

Project outcomes: It also became clear that the disposal phase was less significant than had been anticipated. This is because the plastic trays are highly durable and at the end of their life can be recycled.

Simon Mendes is delighted with the results of the PCF study. He says, "Internally, the process has helped us to identify and improve performance along the supply chain. Externally, LRQA verification delivers confidence and trust in the data so that we can now help customers to achieve their own environmental targets."

The PAS 2050 certificate was presented by LRQA’s managing director, Mike James. Accepting the certificate, Danilo Oliynik, LINPAC Allibert’s commercial director, said: "We are delighted to be the first company to receive this certificate from LRQA. It is important for our customers to be able to make purchasing decisions based on reliable, independently verified data and we believe that the Maxinest data will help them to reduce their own carbon footprint by exploiting the lower carbon footprint of plastic returnable transit packaging."

Mike James added: "The importance of independently verified carbon footprint data will continue to grow as environmental considerations become an increasingly important part of consumer purchasing decisions."

The future: As more companies follow LINPAC Allibert's lead, environmental performance will be enhanced and verified PCF data will become more widely available so that domestic and commercial purchasing decisions can be influenced by a fair comparison between products.Looking back over the results, Mike Hill said, "Some of the results were quite surprising because we assumed that the plastic production phase would be the most energy intensive.

However, we quickly found that whilst the energy use of the plastic production process was quite significant, it was the use phase (distribution transportation and washing) that was the most significant."Sustain managed the project in line with the LINPAC objectives and the requirements of PAS 2050. "It was made very clear from the outset that we were to produce irrefutable, transparent data and that to achieve this we would be given access to whatever was required," commented Sustain's Mike Hill.

The project to determine the carbon footprint of the Maxinest began in 2008. LINPAC's Simon Mendes who initiated the project says, "One of the justifications for this project was to provide our customers with carbon footprint data that would support their own environmental strategies. However, the most important objective was to produce reliable, transparent data that would stand up to scrutiny by a highly reputable independent third party. It was therefore essential that we adopt an internationally accepted method and have the data verified by LRQA."

* Author: Paul Smith, LRQA (Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance), Climate Change Manager and Project Leader, Carbon Footprinting of Products

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