This case study shows how a producer can use a life cycle assessment to compare the carbon footprint of its own product with a competitor’s, and to identify hotspots for action.
O-I Glass is the world's leading glass manufacturer. It crafts bottles and glass packaging in New Zealand and overseas. Its New Zealand operation is at the cutting edge of the company's sustainability efforts, helping architect a new way of recycling glass.
Compared to a decade ago, producers who use glass packaging, retailers, consumers and recyclers, are asking for much greater detail about O-I Glass' sustainability credentials. The company has also been facing growing claims from some competitors about the environmental performance of products like PET plastic and aluminium compared to glass.
Life cycle assessment
O-I Glass undertook a life cycle assessment so that it would be armed with the accurate knowledge required by its customers and to address challenges by its competitors.
The company's New Zealand sustainability manager, Penny Garland said: "We're carbon intensive because of the energy we use. But, we do really well on our raw materials. So our firm carried out a life cycle assessment, in part, to shed full light on claims being made by other materials manufacturers about their products being environmentally friendly."
Figure 1. O-I Glass's value chain
The global glass manufacturer decided to use a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to compare the carbon footprint of one product with a competitors', and to identify hotspots for targeted improvement action. It wanted to look across the entire life cycle of the product, from cradle to cradle – not just from cradle to gate or cradle to grave. It developed a framework to assess the total emissions for its glass packaging. It then ran two studies, comparing the carbon footprint across the life cycle of aluminium, PET and glass packaging.
Risks and opportunities
Using the LCA framework, O-I Glass identified some key risks and opportunities for the business.
Framework to compare impacts of different packaging
Transparency and more certainty for consumers
Better understanding of and therefore ability to improve internal processes
Only address one environmental impact – carbon dioxide emissions
Will be challenged by stakeholders to realise the full LCA (warts and all)
|Challenges||Key Success Factors|
Based on assumption that information already produced by other industries is reliable
Getting buy-in from other industries to commit resources to undertaking similar studies
LCA only represents a moment in time and uses a number of assumptions that will not be relevant to other comparisons
Consumer buy-in on reliability of studies
Continuing industry momentum
Efforts made to articulate the LCA concept and outcome in laymen's terms
The studies found that, over the entire value chain, glass packaging has the most favourable carbon footprint when compared to aluminium and PET.
Having more certainty and knowledge about the specific life cycle stages, means O-I Glass can identify opportunities and develop more targeted solutions to reduce the carbon impact of its value chain.
The exercise has led to O-I Glass publishing a roadmap for the future. It has also given the company a snapshot of where it is today, so it can compare progress over time. Using the LCA framework has also provided the information increasingly demanded by shareholders and customers.
Penny Garland advice for others considering a Life Cycle Analysis, is to be prepared to go the full distance, without holding back. "It will show things that put you in a good light but it also shows where work needs to be done."