Data Visualization Tool uses LCA to show Carbon Footprint of Everyday Products

    A Columbia researcher affiliated with the Data Science Institute and the Earth Institute has created a data-visualization tool that shows the carbon footprints of hundreds of consumer products. The tool makes it easy for everyone to explore the products’ carbon emission levels and the various strategies companies are employing to reduce emissions.

    “Clicking your way through the tool and exploring the many ingenious ways companies found to make cleaner products is quite heartening,” says Christoph Meinrenken (associate research scientist at The Earth Institute and chief data scientist at CoClear, an environmental analytics firm). “I see this as a continuation validation of long-term efforts by many of my colleagues in the corporate and public sector to make life-cycle analysis more scalable and wide spread.”

    Though the data visualization tool is easy to use, the work that went into making it was difficult. Conducting a life-cycle analysis of a product’s carbon footprint is labor-intensive and the data companies submitted to CDP needed “a lot of curating.” Companies submitted their product emission data in myriad formats with varying levels of detail, and Meinrenken had to process the reams of data. To evaluate a simple consumer product such as a soda can, for instance, companies had to collect data on “the masses of three packaging materials and five ingredients, transportation distances of all materials sent to the plant, total amounts for four types of energy as well as transportation distances to stores and refrigeration times in stores and at home, after which all materials and activities have to be paired with respective carbon emission factors, bringing the count of data inputs to about 100 for a single product.” Read more here;