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Practical implementation of the calculation of the product carbon footprint

Mechanical and plant engineering can make a significant contribution to reducing annual CO2 equivalents with green products and systems. To make this achievement visible, the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) is crucial. The PCF records the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by a product in the various phases of its life cycle.

Based on ISO14067 and the GHG Protocol Accounting Standards, the VDMA has developed a guideline that supports companies in calculating the PCF, explains the procedure and steps of the calculation methodology, and in particular addresses the problem of Scope 3 accounting. In parallel, a tool was developed, the PCF Starter, which VDMA member companies can use to calculate the PCF of their machinery and equipment free of charge from April 26, 2023.

ProduktionNRW organized a virtual exchange of experience for the North Rhine-Westphalian mechanical and plant engineering sector on March 29, 2023, to present information on this topic.

Product carbon footprint calculation

Hannah Lena Harlos, VDMA Environment and Sustainability Officer and Head of the VDMA PCF Expert Group, first discussed the framework of the PCF. Increasing regulatory requirements mean that the calculation of the carbon footprint is becoming more and more important for the corporate sustainability strategy. A distinction must be made between corporate carbon footprint (company reference) and product carbon footprint (product reference). Several challenges are known with the previous PCF calculation, such as the low data exchange along the value chain or the different calculation methods. The VDMA guideline addresses these issues and provides a framework for PCF calculation.

Presentation of the PCF-STARTER

Eileen Einwächter, Product Designer at Tanso Technologies GmbH, then presented the PCF-Starter. The PCF-Starter is a joint project of the VDMA in development cooperation with Tanso Technologies. At the time of the event, the PCF-Starter is still in the test phase and will be released on April 26, 2023 – the participants therefore had exclusive insights into the current status.

The PCF-Starter is a pragmatic CO2 calculator for products that covers main emission sources for Cradle-to-Gate. The cradle-to-gate approach includes emissions from materials, production energy consumption and transportation. For example, emissions from materials are calculated “bottom-up” per material based on their gross weight. The PCF starter is available free of charge to VDMA member companies that want to calculate an initial assessment of the carbon footprint of their products. The PCF of a product example was then calculated live at the event.

Exchange of experience
In the concluding discussion, various questions were raised. For example, one of the issues was that the previous PCF calculation did not include assembly work, even though this makes up a large part of a company’s business model. At this point, reference was made to the cradle-to-gate approach, which does not include Scope 3 downstream. Additionally, the aspect of more complex products with multiple components was discussed.

According to the current state of PCF calculation, the emissions of the previous products have to be calculated again for the own product. Since the PCF of the previous products are mostly unknown, these then have to be estimated. In addition to the possible double calculation, this approach is considered to be not very practicable. A solution approach could be to also grant suppliers access to the PCF starter at a later date – possibly for a fee. Overall, the broad interest in PCF calculation shows that improving calculation methods is an important step in the right direction.

Further information


The event was offered by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster of mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is implemented by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks among themselves and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.