Regulatory trends and market dynamics have steadily increased the need for manufacturers to measure and influence the environmental impacts of their products. A key element of environmental impact is a product’s energy use and links to GHG emissions, sometimes euphemized as “carbon footprint.” Characterizing the carbon effect of a product requires evaluation of the product’s entire life cycle, including raw material extraction and transportation, manufacturing (or service provision), distribution, consumer use, and end-of-life disposition. But while it is possible to quantify a product’s carbon footprint, a more valuable approach is to identify the principal “drivers” of carbon impact within a product and characterize the effect of changes in those factors.
A range of efforts, both public and private, are underway in this area of applied research. But no standard approach or methodology broadly applicable to the electrical product industry has emerged.
In July 2010, the NEMA Board of Governors approved a contractor study, funded as a Strategic Initiative, aimed at developing this methodology to guide carbon footprint assessments in the electro-product sector. Expert technical assistance was secured through a contract with the Materials Systems Laboratory (MSL) at MIT’s Center for Technology, Policy & Industrial Development . The MSL’s sustainability experts possess strong credentials in life cycle assessment and carbon footprint estimation, including recent projects involving electronic products.
With guidance from a diverse advisory panel drawn from the NEMA membership, the project is proceeding through two phases. The first phase, now concluded, focused on developing the basic methodology, or “product attribute-to-impact algorithm,” and applying it to specified “focal products” – energy efficient lamps and AC induction motors. Findings from these initial analyses produced useful insights to the NEMA members who manufacture these products and created a basis for a broader, high-level guideline intended to be widely applicable to NEMA products and systems.
In the project’s second phase, NEMA will refine the mapping procedure by applying the methodology to additional focal products – an analysis of electronic ballasts is in process and other product categories are under consideration. As those analyses are completed, the focus will turn to crafting the high-level guideline document for broader application.
NEMA Carbon Footprint Initiative