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Sustainability 101: What’s embodied carbon?

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Do you are feeling a bit misplaced when individuals consult with sure environmental sustainability subjects and aren’t certain the place to begin in terms of studying extra? Sustainability 101 is a weblog sequence which you could flip to for details about completely different environmental phrases which will come up at work, throughout discussions with mates, and even at your annual vacation gathering.


A lot of the local weather change dialog is concentrated on the impacts of actions we take day-after-day — selecting automobiles that run on low-carbon electrical energy or inexperienced hydrogen as a substitute of gasoline or diesel, shifting to electrical energy from much less emissions-intensive sources, or utilizing merchandise product of recycled content material and/or which are recyclable.

Nevertheless, shifting to services that generate decrease emissions whereas they’re in use tackles solely a part of the greenhouse gasoline (GHG) emissions puzzle — what’s known as operational emissions. The opposite a part of the equation — and one which Cisco has additionally been working to scale back by means of how we design, manufacture, ship and handle our merchandise at finish of life — is what’s known as embodied emissions. 

Embodied emissions are the GHG emissions generated when manufacturing a product (or the elements that go right into a product), when transporting it and when it’s handled on the finish of its helpful life. These emissions are already a part of it before you purchase and/or use it [1].

A key focus space for a lot of expertise firms is to deal with the operational emissions of units in use at this time by enhancing the power effectivity of those merchandise. Nevertheless, the place firms have the best skill to have an effect on emissions is thru the design, manufacturing, transportation (together with reverse logistics) and reusability/recyclability of merchandise. To make a product with a decrease carbon influence over its lifecycle, we’ve got to know what makes up the embodied emissions in a product and the way we will design or modify the methods we make and transport it to scale back emissions.

A not-so-small step for humankind: quantifying a product’s embodied carbon emissions.

The complete scope of emissions generated by the manufacturing, transportation, use and finish of lifetime of a product could be quantified by means of a lifecycle evaluation (LCA). This entails assessing what emissions resulted from manufacturing a product: from extracting or manufacturing its base supplies (e.g., plastic for pc circumstances, battery supplies like lithium), to the share of power utilized in factories to remodel supplies into elements after which assemble elements into that single product. Emissions can be generated when producing packaging for a product, when transporting it to the end-user and from remedy on the finish of its helpful life.

In a manner, measuring operational carbon is probably going extra simple — primarily based on measurable metrics equivalent to supply and amount of electrical energy used, gallons of gasoline consumed, and the emission elements related to them. By comparability, assessing embodied carbon of a product requires a spread of actions:

  • Defining the system boundaries, i.e., which course of steps are included and excluded;
  • Utilizing a acknowledged methodology for the gathering of information and emissions quantification — for instance, steerage from the Greenhouse Fuel Protocol (i.e., Product Lifecycle Accounting and Reporting Commonplace), Publicly Out there Specification (PAS) 2050, the ISO14040-44 requirements or the ISO14067 normal;
  • Gathering information on the amount of supplies used and power consumption at every lifecycle stage, in addition to the carbon dioxide equal (CO2e) emission issue for every materials and course of to quantify complete CO2e emissions; and
  • Ensuring the info for the chosen evaluation is constant (e.g., useful unit, timescale).

After you have that data, you may quantify the embodied carbon emissions in a product and begin the true work — utilizing that data to establish methods to scale back these emissions.

The best information can level the way in which to focused emissions reductions.

With a wealthy understanding of a product’s embodied carbon emissions, product designers can then doubtlessly make selections that scale back that product’s embodied emissions shifting ahead. Throughout product design, firms can contemplate substituting lower-carbon supplies into merchandise. That substitution can take the type of utilizing the identical materials(s) produced in a much less emissions-intensive method (i.e., through the use of recycled materials, extra power environment friendly industrial processes and/or lower-carbon power on the manufacturing unit degree) or through the use of an alternate materials that’s much less emissions intensive to provide.

As well as, producers can optimize processes and implement design adjustments to scale back the general use of supplies and the quantity of waste generated throughout manufacturing. Embodied emissions can be diminished through the use of extra power environment friendly manufacturing processes and applied sciences, and utilizing low-carbon sources of power for these processes. The influence of transportation too could be diminished by implementing adjustments equivalent to utilizing low-carbon modes of transport and gasoline varieties.

Closing the loop.

Cisco’s workforce has been onerous at work performing its personal lifecycle assessments and product carbon footprints assessments to account for the greenhouse gasoline emissions from its manufacturing, transportation, and end-of-life remedy for its merchandise. Details about these processes could be discovered on Cisco’s ESG Hub.

Manufacturing, transport, and end-of-life emissions could make up roughly 1 / 4 of complete emissions in Cisco merchandise [2], which is why it’s important to account for and work to scale back emissions not ensuing from product use. Calculating the impacts of Cisco merchandise allows our groups to not solely perceive the lifecycle carbon impacts of our merchandise, however to mannequin the impacts of varied design, materials and course of adjustments that may be made to our merchandise.

Cisco has a public objective for 100% of recent Cisco merchandise and packaging to include Round Design Rules by FY25. Cisco has recognized 25 Round Design Rules, organized throughout the 5 focus areas beneath. These Rules play a pivotal function in enabling the discount of GHG emissions throughout the lifecycles of Cisco merchandise, particularly their embodied carbon emissions. Go to the ESG Hub for extra particulars on Cisco’s objective and its Round Design Rules.A graphic showing Cisco's circular design focus areas

Cisco additionally has packages to encourage product returns, reuse, and recycling to scale back emissions from product finish of use. When merchandise are returned to Cisco, we consider their situation and eligibility for reuse. If the product is in usable situation or repairable and there’s demand for the product, it undergoes a testing and/or restore course of to fulfill Cisco’s high quality requirements. One of many main targets of product return course of is to redeploy as a lot materials as potential, thus lowering the manufacturing of virgin supplies and subsequent emissions.

  • Product returns: Numerous packages supplied for purchasers to return merchandise again to Cisco to make sure that they observe the very best worth finish of use pathway.
  • Product reuse: Reuse is at all times a prime precedence. Returned units that may be reused are remanufactured, refurbished, or repaired, and resold by Cisco Refresh, or utilized by Cisco service operations or our inside labs.
  • Product recycling: Any merchandise that aren’t reusable are harvested for elements that may be reused, and remaining supplies are recycled the place potential by one among our approved recyclers. We at present have two contracted e-scrap recyclers. Every recycler makes use of each company-owned services and subcontracted recyclers to supply international recycling protection.

Please go to the ESG Hub for particulars on the assorted returns and reuse packages supplied.

Calculating product embodied carbon emissions is important for Cisco to assist our clients in quantifying the carbon influence of the merchandise they buy, and it additionally gives Cisco with data that’s necessary in our efforts to scale back the GHG emissions related to our merchandise.


[1] Carbon Herald, https://carbonherald.com/what-is-embodied-carbon-and-why-does-it-matter/

[2]That is primarily based on lifecycle greenhouse gasoline emissions quantified for Cisco ICT merchandise utilizing international electricity-use emission elements. Go to the ESG Hub (“Environmental Footprint of our Merchandise”) for extra particulars.

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