Methods and work aids

There are numerous methods for determining the environmental impacts of materials, substances or products. One of the best known is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This comprehensive technique analyses environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of the product and the associated consumption of materials and energy, as well as subsequent environmental impacts. It can be used in conjunction with other more specific methods, e.g. the CO2 footprint of products and buildings (Product Carbon Footprint, PCF or Corporate Carbon Footprint, CCF) or the water footprint.

There are numerous other work aids, from simple tools such as Ecolizer 2.0, developed by the Public Waste Agency of Flanders, and the SIS Toolkit, both of which are suitable for designers. Databases and technical regulations are also commonly employed, as well as complex calculation and visualisation tools such as Ecoinvent and Umberto.

Another useful tool in the development of products is the Ecodesign Pilot, a software tool developed at the TU Vienna that supports product developers and constructors by proposing suitable strategies and specific measures for an eco-relevant improvement of the product. This tool can already be used during the planning phase. It has been modified and enhanced for company-specific scopes of application and a separate version of the tool has been was developed for the textile industry.

The Ecodesign Kit, developed by the Institute for Environmental Strategy Hamburg together with the International Design Center Berlin and on behalf of the UBA, offers a collection of various learning and teaching materials for students.

The eBook “Was ist Ecodesign” offers a good overview on ecodesign methods and tools and can be downloaded via the following link:

Life Cycle Assessment

Although originally developed primarily for the assessment of products, LCAs can also be conducted for services and processes. The principles and rules for the implementation of LCAs have been laid down internationally in ISO standards 14040:2006 and 14044:2006 and transferred to the German standards (DIN EN ISO 14040, DIN EN ISO 14044). Accordingly, an LCA comprises four elements:

  • Definition of goal and investigative scope
  • Life cycle inventory analysis
  • Impact assessment
  • Assessment

A common and significant problem in the implementation of LCA projects is the extremely limited availability of suitable data. Environmental data on products and processes are frequently not publicly available or are only accessible following painstaking research. To this end, the German Federal Environment Agency offers a range of publicly available data sets from various resources that can be used in LCAs. These can be accessed via the Internet portal ProBas (process-oriented basic data for environmental management instruments).

Product Carbon Footprint

In recent years, various initiatives for the determination of the CO2 balance of products have aimed efforts towards a more comprehensive measurement of the CO2 Product Carbon Footprint. Unfortunately, no uniform and accepted methodology exists to date. An internationally binding ISO standard (ISO 14067) for Product Carbon Footprint and an internationally harmonised guideline are under preparation.

In 2009, the German Environment Ministry (BMUB) and the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) commissioned the Institute for Applied Biology (Öko-Institut) to develop proposals for a methodology for the determination and representation of Product Carbon Footprint. The results are laid out in the Memorandum on Product Carbon Footprint, which is being incorporated into international standardisation processes.

Water Footprint

To determine the water footprint, actual water consumed on-site is added to the so-called ‘virtual water’ that is initially required for the production of the locally used or consumed foodstuffs and goods.According to calculations from the Dutch non-profit organisation Water Footprint Network, water consumption in Germany is 1,545,000 litres per person per year, or 4,230 litres per day. In a similar study on the water footprint, the WWF calculated as high as 5,288 litres per person per day – the equivalent of around 27 filled bathtubs.

This astonishingly high level can be traced back primarily to our current standard of living, in particular meat consumption and the intensive use of industrial products. Each manufactured car, for example, requires an average of 400,000 litres of virtual water; each computer 20,000 litres.

A binding international ISO standard for water footprint (ISO 14046) is currently being drafted.

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