Environmental Sustainability and measurement’s tools

 

The concept of sustainability is intrinsically linked to that of environmental protection, but in recent years it has expanded to include a broader meaning that considers – in addition to the environmental dimension – also the economic and social ones. In this sense, it refers to the condition whereby the current generation can satisfy its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own in the three dimensions (ESG – Environmental, Social, Governance) mentioned above.

In the context, attention will be focus exclusively on the methodologies available for assessing the environmental impacts of companies, both for their normal operation and for the production of specific products, postponing the issue of sustainability in the social and governance dimension to another occasion.

The meaning of environmental sustainability refers to the broader concept of sustainable development, that is a process model capable of maintaining the balance between respect for the environment and socio-economic progress, through long-term strategies such as:

  • Recognize the intrinsic value of the natural resources;
  • Protect the bio-diversity of the species:
  • Protect the health of productive ecosystems, such as agricultural land and livestock, making them sustainable;
  • Promote the energetic transition by using renewable energy sources;
  • Designing products, goods and services through a project (eco-design) based on the attention of the environment for all life stages (from cradle to grave);
  • Mitigate the effects of climate changes.

Among 17 targets identified in 2015 by “Agenda 2030” of United Nations for sustainable development, the commitment to combat climate change through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – up to complete decarbonization of electricity production – is the one with greatest media coverage. The other targets are linked to the eco sustainability and to the resilience, but also to human dignity, regional and global political stability and economy prosperity. In January 2020 the investment plan for the European Green Deal 2050 was presented in Strasbourg, that is the most ambitious ecologic transition plan presented to date by a continent to reach zero emission by 2050.

Companies and individuals are also required to do their part to contribute to a sustainable development. In particular companies has a moral obligation to adopt development policies that translate into sustainable development, for example like:

  • Adoption of practices based on circular economy principles;
  • Preservation and protection of the territory and bio diversities;
  • Promotion of the renewable energy sources and efficient use of resources;·      Recycle and optimal waste management;
  • Promotion of the sustainable mobility;
  • Development of innovative technologies for environment.

Including the environmental sustainability in business growth strategies today represents a competitive advantage that allows the company to be perceived by the market as more reliable, less risky and therefore able to produce value in the long term.

Measuring Environmental Sustainability

Defining objectives implies the need to measure the effectiveness of the actions taken to achieve them. It is for this purpose that a certain number of environmental sustainability indices (internationally recognized) have been identified, which can be grouped into the following types:

  1. Descriptive indicators, i.e. those ones that describe the real situation with respect to environmental problems and are expressed in units (for example tons of CO2 emissions);
  2. Performance or effectiveness indicators, that is the ratio between the result achieved and the pre-established objective in terms of environmental policy (for example the % of waste collected separately and the waste sorting target);-
  3. Efficiency indicators, that is the ratio between the environmental result achieved and the economic resources used (for example the reduction of the atmospheric emissions per unit of cost of structural actions);
  4. Total wellness indicators, that measure the total sustainability (for example the ecologic footprint or the contribution to the greenhouse effect).

Measuring the environmental sustainability of a company is important both to be able to assess the consequences of its business from an ecological and social point of view and because the measurability of the sustainability becomes increasingly relevant in the eyes of potential investors and partners.

This is the reason for which the most important rating agencies have developed parameters that decline the concept of sustainability of the company not only from an environmental point of view, but also under social and governance standpoints. More in general, the company’s environmental sustainability is measured by verifying the following points:

a) Compliance with the current legislation: this is a basic element, consisting of the company’s ability to respect the international and national laws and standards required for its area of expertise;

b) Quantity of raw materials used: this is an indicator that involves both the economic and environmental part of the company, measuring the quantity of harmful emissions and produced wastes;

c) Supply chain: it is necessary to consider the entire life cycle of the product, from the procurement of raw materials to the end of its life;

d) Social impact: it has to do with the way in which the company fits into the social contest in which operates (for example the national and international relations of the production chain, the impact to the local area in which the company operates);

e) Environmental effects: they concern the environmental consequences of the company’s activities and, more in general, the presence of the safety procedures to reduce/cancel the damage of any negative event.

Life Cycle Assesment e Carbon Foorprint

The Life Cycle Assesment is a standardized and international recognized calculation metod (UNI EN ISO 14040:2021 e UNI EN ISO 14044:2021) that allows to value the global environmental impact of products and processes, also considering the impacts associated with the supply chain (upstream), the phases of use (core) and at the end of life (downstream). It represents the main operational tools of the Life Cycle Thinking and provides:

  • The definition of the objectives (for example climate change, water scarcity, resources consumption, eutrophication, etc.) and the field of application (in space and time) of the analysis;
  • The filling of an inventory of the inputs and outputs (both in terms of mass and energy) of a defined system;
  • The assessment of the potential environmental impacts related to these inputs and outputs;
  • The interpretation of the results, in order to derive hard conclusions and recommendations on which to base a communication strategy and/or an eco-design process and/or an improvements plan.

It is a powerful tool for investigating a company’s sustainability strategy, applicable both to the entire organization as a whole to make an ex-ante and ex-post evaluation respect to the adoption of improvement and investment initiatives, and to a specific line of product, even during the design phase of the same. In other words, the analysis of the life cycle allows us to take a fundamental look also at what stakeholders and partners are doing along the production chain (upstream and downstream of the production process), helping to outline a medium-long term strategy to reach the set objectives of environmental sustainability.

The life cycle analysis also represents a fundamental support for the development of environment labeling schemes, both in defining the environmental criteria of reference to a group of products (Ecolabel) and as main tool to obtain an Environment Product Declaration (EPD).

In those cases where the primary interest of the company is to focus its analysis only on the climate changes and the consequent need to adopt measures aimed at limiting the greenhouse gas emissions (so-called GHG, Greenhouse Gases), it is possible to make the analysis of the Carbon Footprint. Also in this case the analysis can be carried out at the single product level (in accordance with the standard UNI EN ISO 14067:2018) or for the entire organization (in accordance with the standard UNI EN ISO 14064:2018).

The benefits for the company that decides to undertake the analysis of its Carbon Footprint can be summarized as follows:

  • Quantification and localization of the emissions sources;
  • Determination of one’s own Carbon Intensity, that is the quantity of CO2 emissions per functional unit of product;
  • Consistency, transparency and credibility in counting emissions;
  • Identification and management of risks and responsibilities related to harmful emissions of greenhouse gases;
  • Project, development and application of initiatives and programs aimed at the reduction of pollutants;
  • Implementation of compensation and neutralization actions through the promotion of reforestation processes and/or protection of existing forests;
  • Creation of a reference to compare own performances with those ones of competitors;
  • Achievement of an environmental label for the organization. 

Our solutions

ICT srl has a professional’s team able to support the client companies to define a strong environmental development strategy and in fixing and implementing concrete continuous environmental improvement activities, also through the use of Lean Green methodologies and circular economy (Zero Waste Approach) applied to the entire production chain.

In particular, through the partner company Gruppo 2G S.p.A., we take care to:

  • Complete the cycle life analysis of products and organizations (Life Cycle Assesment) according to UNI EC ISO 14040 and UNI EN ISO 14044;
  • Carry out a simplified LCA study that allows immediate verification of the life cycle and the determination of orders of magnitude of global environmental impacts, also in order to reply quickly and properly to the increasingly frequent requests for environmental transparency from clients of certain sectors (for example, the automotive sector);
  • Project, document, quantify and report greenhouse gas emissions according to the standard UNI EN ISO 14064-1:2018 and the standard UNI EN ISO 14067:2018;
  • Provide consultancy for environmental product certification (Environmental Product Declaration, Ecolabel, Made Green in Italy) and help in the definition of and effective environmental policy communication;
  • Support in the definition of compensation and neutralization projects of the organization’s equivalent GHG emissions;
  • Create an Environmental Management System in accordance with the standard UNI EN ISO 14001;
  • Create an Energy Management System in accordance with the standard UNI CEI EN ISO 50001:2018;
  • To train company personnel in sustainability issues with specific reference to those of the environmental sustainability. The courses list includes:
    • Principles, models and applications of circular economy;
    • Sustainable Supply Chain: management and monitoring of the supply chain;
    • Life Cycle Assesment Methodology;
    • Carbon Footprint;
    • Environmental product certifications
    • Environmental legislation and the environmental management system in accordance to the UNI EN ISO14001:2005;
    • Environmental legislation and the environmental management system according to the regulation EMAS;
    • The energy management system to the standard UNI CEI EN ISO 50001:2018.

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