FAQ and methodology Pickler Eco score

What is the goal of Pickler and the Eco score?

We want to accelerate the switch to sustainable packaging. We believe that buyers (when sourcing) and suppliers (when renewing their portfolio) will always pick the most sustainable option when reviewing equally suited packaging at similar cost. 

To make these decisions, you need evidence based insights. Currently however, claims such as biodegradable or recyclable are dominant. Those claims don’t tell the whole story about the environmental impact of packaging and are therefore not convincing and often meaningless.

With our LCA-based Eco Score we do provide that much needed evidence for buyers and suppliers to base their strategic decisions on. Our Eco score is instant, scalable, transparent and results are presented in a way so they are understood by everybody.

We believe that when proof is there, decisions will be made that are best for our planet and a world of sustainable packaging is one step closer.

What are eco-costs?

Eco-costs are so-called 'external costs',  i.e. environmental costs for our society, that are not part of the market price. You could see them as hidden obligations, basically hidden costs that can be avoided by technical prevention measures.

Eco-costs is a measure to express the amount of this environmental burden of a product on the basis of prevention of that burden. These are the (marginal) costs which should be made to reduce the environmental pollution and materials depletion in our world to a level which is in line with the carrying capacity of our earth.

More detailed definition and information can be found here.

What is an Eco score?

The Eco score has been introduced to make it easier to understand the environmental impact of a product at first sight. It is based on the eco-costs model and can be an A, B or C.

A: from €0,- to €0,10 - eco-costs per kg of material
B: from €0,10 - to €0,20 - eco-costs per kg of material
C: from €0,20 - to €0,40 - eco-costs per kg of material
D: from €0,40 - to €0,80 - eco-costs per kg of material
E: from €0,80 - to €1,20 - eco-costs per kg of material
F: from €1,20 - to €2,00 - eco-costs per kg of material
G: from everything higher than €2,- eco-costs per kg of material

We encourage to read the full analysis to get a comprehensive understanding of the impact.

What calculation procedure do you use?

The carbon footprint data and the eco-costs data we use are based on the following data, which are provided by the supplier.

  1. A quantified list of ingredients (raw materials) of the product (the bill of material (BOM) of Scope 3)
  2. Transport distances (sea transport as well as inland transport) from the supplier of the ingredients to the manufacturing site of the product
  3. Quantity of heat (source specified) and electricity (country average, or sustainable source specified) at the manufacturing site of the product (Scope 2)
  4. If applicable, the quantity of toxic emissions at the manufacturing site, when the eco-costs of the emissions are more than 2% (Scope 1)
  5. Transport distances (sea transport as well as inland transport) from the manufacturing site to the European Distribution Center.
  6. When part of the electricity, Scope 2, is from a special sustainable source (i.e. from PV cells, windmills, bio waste, or waste), the percentage must be proven by the product supplier.
    CO2 offsets and general Guaranties of Origen and RECs (other than from the same electricity supplier, or SRECs in the USA) are not counted. See https://www.ecocostsvalue.com/lca/gos-and-recs-in-lca/ 
  7. When available, a verified LCA of the product may be applied (e.g. an EPD), instead of data of point 1 - 6 

LCA scores for point 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 (i.e. Scope 3 and Scope 2 background processes) are from the IDEMAT tables.
Electricity data for specific countries can be found here.
Eco-costs data on the eco-costs of toxic foreground emissions, point 4, Scope 1 can be found here.

There are 5 types of scores, related to uncertainties and accuracies:

  1. Generic data with country mix electricity
  2. Generic data with specific sustainable electricity
  3. EPD data

    Sometimes there are not data or not enough data from the manufacturer.
    In such cases Pickler does nog make assumptions, but states:
  4. Data under discussion, or
  5. Incomplete data

Notes:
  1. The carbon footprint as well as the eco-costs of type B calculations are always lower than type A, although the difference is normally limited to 20% maximum, since the calculations are governed by the eco burden of Scope 3 (point 1).
  2. The  type C calculations (e.g. EDPs) are not expected to deviate much from type A. They are not per sé more accurate than type A or B, since often outdated electricity data are applied, with an outdated carbon intensity. Where possible, the EPD is corrected for this error in carbon footprint and eco-costs. 
  3. The electricity in Scope 3 supplies cannot be corrected, since the amount per source is normally not known.
  4. Scope 3 is not only the biggest part of the total product score, it also has the biggest unknown inaccuracies. Accuracies are improved drastically when the product manufacturer has EPDs of its main suppliers.

Use phase, Recycling and End-of-Life
The Use phase is to counted, since it is different for different applications.
The consequence is Clients that use a product more than once, have to make their own calculation a self-declared functional unit in terms of number of uses.
 
Pickler makes the following assumptions for the End-of-Life:
- metals are recycled
- products that can be burned, are combusted in a municipal waste incinerator with heat recovery by electricity production (according to ISO 14044 section 4.3.3.1)
- other products are landfilled


The benefit of recycling is counted at the supply side (Scope 3). The benefit of electricity production at the End-of-Life is counted by a so called “system expansion” (of the municipal waste incinerator), according to ISO 14044 section 4.3.3.1. Data are available in the IDEMAT tables .
(see also: “What is the scope of the Pickler Eco score?”)

Where can I find the data from the databases that you use?

Where can I find the data from the databases that you use?

The IDEMAT tables have a reference for each data line, available at https://www.ecocostsvalue.com and can fully be checked in OpenLCA and Simapro, which assures full transparency. 

Open LCA software is available for free.
IDEMAT database available (commercial license 250 euro, academic license for free)
A database for Simapro owners is available for free 

Is the Eco score calculation certified?


No, certification is not intended in LCA, according to ISO 14044, since certification systems normally lead to window dressing. Instead, a peer review system is defined in ISO14044 and applied in a simple form in EPDs.
Pickler basically trust the supplier, but checks data that are considered unlikely.

The calculation methods that Pickler uses to calculate the eco-score are simple transparent accounting calculations (e.g. adding and multiplying) and therefore the impact of having a certification for the calculation method is considered low.

The data coming from suppliers, like the amount of material, is multiplied by the corresponding footprint for that material from the life cycle inventory (LCI) database, in our case IDEMAT. The outcome from each lifecycle stage is then added up to create the end-result.

If there is an EPD available the data is used for the corresponding life cycle stages.

Why did we choose the Idemat LCI data for our calculations?

Why did we choose the Idemat LCI data for our calculations?

We decided to base the eco-burden scores on LCA, however, it is not realistic to ask the suppliers to deliver LCA documents with verification (e.g. EPDs) for each product on the Pickler website, since the costs of it are far too high (normally 20k – 30k).

A much easier and economical solution is to make use of the IDEMAT tables for so-called ‘background processes’ (Scope 2 and Scope 3 supplies in the GHG protocol). These tables have been selected for the following reasons:

  1. It is developed and maintained by the Sustainability Impact Metrics Foundation, a fully independent non-profit organization, in collaboration with  the Delft University of Technology
  2. The data are free available
  3. It applies the most recent information (for e.g. electricity Idemat is more recent than Ecoinvent and Gabi)
  4. It is fully transparent, based on peer reviewed scientific papers and measured data

The IDEMAT data have been calculated by ‘full LCA software’ (Simapro and Open LCA), in compliance with ISO 14040, ISO 14044, EN 15804, and the LCA handbook of the ILCD. 

What is the business relevance of Eco-costs?

The business relevance of eco-costs is that it is the financial risk of non-compliance with future governmental regulations.

Companies that have better grip on their value chain are able to faster respond to uncertain factors in their business. For example reducing the number of kilometers transport will result in lower transport cost and less exposure to fluctuating prices of transport fuels. The same accounts for reducing the footprint of raw materials. Materials with a large footprint are more exposed to regulations and public opinion like for example the discussion around PFAS and the “plastic soup”.

Clever entrepreneurs are proactive and reduce the eco-costs of their products and services by innovation. They apply eco-efficient value creation supported by circular business models.

Why do you use Eco-costs and carbon footprint as indicators?

We took carbon footprint since that is the most used indicator in our society and since GreenHouse Gasses (GHG) are the most imminent threat to earth. 

The disadvantage, however, is that other types of eco-burden are not part of the calculation, like human toxicity, eco-toxicity, scarcity of resources, including issues like the plastic soup land-use and water.

To make calculations in the circular economy, the issue of resource scarcity must be included, since it is its main issue (only carbon footprint leads to the wrong conclusions).

That is why we also selected eco-costs as an indicator that included all these issues, including GHG, since:

  1. It is the most used system for monetization of eco-burden in science
  2. It is fully transparent and well described, see https://www.ecocostsvalue.com/eco-costs/
  3. It was independently developed of the manufacturing industry by the Delft University of Technology, and is maintained by the non-profit Sustainability Impact Metrics Foundation

The Eco-costs system is in compliance with ISO 14008, and is applied in LCA (Life Cycle Assessment),  TCA (True Costs Accounting) and in corporate accounting systems, like the new rules for CSRD, Taxonomy and CBAM of the EU.

How can Eco scores from individual packaging be compared?

Our goal is not to provide you with an exact number for comparison, but to enable companies to see major differences in environmental impact between products in total, as well as for every step of the life cycle. 

This basically means that a buyer can now see why packaging A has less impact than B and where that difference comes from (location, transport, energy used, materials used and end-of-life scenario). 

This enables buyers to make better informed decisions about their packaging in favor of sustainability, within the limits of the required functional performance.

What unit of measure do you use?

One piece of the finished packaging or a m2 of sheet is used as a declared unit.

If the packaging is made to order, we use an unit of measure of 1kg of the finished packaging material. For made-to-order packaging it is important to know how much packaging will be created for 1kg of raw material to have a good comparison between different material types.

What does LCA-based mean?

An LCA study involves a thorough inventory of the energy and materials that are required across the industry value chain of the product, process or service, and calculates the corresponding emissions to the environment. 

There are many interpretations of the scope and depth of the LCA methodology. One of the most used guidelines is ISO 14040 & ISO 14044, and EN15804 for the building industry. These are often supplemented with industry specific calculation rules (for packaging PCR 2019:13). The European Union is also putting efforts into a standardized method for product environmental footprints (PEF), but that is still under development.

Although these analyses are very well thought, the time and efforts dedicated to put together a formal life cycle assessment is enormous and requires either in-house expertise or the support from a LCA expert. 

Therefore it leads to a poor industry adoption rate of approximately <1% and therefore not able to make a significant shift in the prevention of climate change.

Together with the non-profit organization Sustainability Impact Metrics, Pickler developed a transparent LCA based methodology that is compatible with existing standards but uses a more practical and cost effective method that is within reach of >95% of the packaging industry. 

The calculations of Pickler have still a good accuracy, since the Scope 2 and Scope 3 data from the Idemat tables are calculated according formal LCA procedures by means of the dedicated Simapro and Open LCA software. For the calculation rules of Idemat see https://www.ecocostsvalue.com/lca/idemat-calculation-rules/

 What is the data quality and who is responsible?

There are two types of input data Pickler uses. The data coming from suppliers and data coming from a life cycle inventory (LCI) database, in our case IDEMAT. 

Suppliers are responsible for the quality of the data that they supply and in having the supporting evidence. Examples of supporting evidence are; EPD’s, bill of materials, mass balances, product sheets, transportation documents with distances and methods, end-of-life reports made by an unbiased third party.

The non-profit organization Sustainability Impact Metrics is responsible for the LCI database IDEMAT. The IDEMAT data have been calculated by ‘full LCA software’ (Simapro and Open LCA), in compliance with ISO 14040, ISO 14044, EN 15804, and the LCA handbook of the ILCD. 

Pickler is transparent in the source of the data. That means that everybody can see where we base our calculations on. 

Since this is open source, it is possible to object to a score when any irregularities or improvements are seen. Please let us know and we will check with the supplier or with Sustainability Impact Metrics.

What is outside the scope?

The scope is cradle-to-cradle, and, in the GHG protocol Scope 1, 2, and 3.

The "use" phase cannot be included at this stage, since most packaging can be used for multiple products. 

Therefore we always recommend making sure the packaging has a positive effect on the product or its shelf life.

Within the analysis the "secondary packaging" / logistic packaging (palettes, carton, ..) is not included within the calculation since it is negligible compared to the transport itself.

Filling the packaging is not included in the analysis since this footprint contributes to the footprint of the product itself.

The footprint for collecting and sorting the waste is kept out of scope since the contribution to the overall footprint is considered very low.

What is the scope of the Eco score?

Our analysis is based on the cradle-to-grave principle. This means that the following stages of the life cycle are taken into account, and the following product types and transport modes are applied (see also the Figure at "What calculation procedure do you use?"):

Raw material supply

  1. fossil based plastic pellets (including: production oil & gas, refining, processing to plastic pellets)
  2. mechanical recycled plastics pellets (including: shredding, washing, drying, remelting)
  3. chemical recycling (including: pyrolysis, refining pyrolysis oil, processing to plastic pellets); PET via glycolysis
  4. virgin metals (including: mining + refining)
  5. upcycled metals (including: remelting + refining); recycled steel via electric furnaces
  6. biobased polymers (starch-based, cellulose based, maize based, PLA, PHA)
  7. biobased polymers from agricultural waste
  8. virgin paper and board (kraft liner)
  9. recycled paper and board (test liner)

Production

  1. Transport of raw material to production (by container)
  2. Production of the packaging ("machine only" data for converters, where the electricity and heat is taken in the country of production)
  3. Manufacturing waste processing (recycling or combustion with heat recovery)
  4. Transport from the gate of production to the warehouse of the brandowner (by container or truck-plus-trailer)

End of life

  1. Transport to the waste facility (normally negligible)
  2. Waste processing (recycling, or including combustion with heat recovery, or landfill)

Notes

  1. The system applies the so called “cut-off” at the waste stock pile. This means that there is no carry-over of eco-burden from the old product to the new, recycled, product (according to EN 15804).
  2. So called system expansion is applied for materials that can be combusted (according ISO14044 section 4.3.3.1).

What are CO₂ equivalents (CO2-eq)?

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) stands for a unit based on the global warming potential (GWP) of different greenhouse gases. The CO2eq unit measures the environmental impact of one tonne of these greenhouse gases in comparison to the impact of one tonne of CO2.

When packaging ends up being incinerated in western Europe, the heat that is created from this process will in most of the time be used to generate electricity. This means less coal and/or gas can be used to generate electricity. And since the emissions of burning coal and/or gas are higher than the burning of paper packaging, it will result in a reduction of emissions, and therefore result in a negative score. (see ISO 14044 section 4.3.3.1)
 This is called the credit of the system expansion. In the case of fossil based plastics, however, there is not a credit, but a debit, since the emissions of the packaging is more than the emissions that are the result of the electricity mix.

The score will depend on many factors, such as the heat generating capacity of the material,  the electricity mix of the country where the product finds its end of life, the efficiency of the power plant, the type of embedded carbon (biogenic, i.e. "short term cycle" or fossil based, i.e. "long term cycle"), and many other factors.

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