Example of Carbon Saved by Buying an Old Thing Not a New Thing
Manufacturing is generally very wasteful of resources with only a small percentage, on average, appearing in the finished product. Envirowise
reported that in today's manufacturing industries, around 93% of the raw materials used to fabricate the items that we buy in our daily lives are wasted. Only about 7% of these materials actually find their way into retail products. In addition, 80% of many items are discarded within six weeks of purchase.
The ultimate goal is to design
products in such a way that they are much less wasteful of raw materials and can also be recycled at the end of their useful life so that valuable resources can be recovered. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
can be used to assess products in terms of their manufacture, use and eventual disposal.
LCA, in conjunction with carbon footprinting
, can be used to quantify the impact that manufactured goods have on the environment and identify ways of reducing the impact. All goods therefore embody the waste and carbon emissions of manufacture.
Embedded carbon in manufactured items is what we need to control and reduce.
Today, we can alleviate the problem by buying used items instead of new and therefore both extend the useful life of the products that we need and save on the energy and raw materials used to manufacture new products.
, author of "Carbon Detox"
, calculates that on average, for every pound (money) we spend on general goods and services, around 0.4 kg CO2 is emitted. For more complex items, e.g. items of electronics, this can rise to 2.5 times that value, i.e. 1 kg CO2.
The Dutch company Replay International aims to offset the CO2 emissions of any retail purchase made using their Greencard
Visa card. For most purchases, they use a value of 0.79 kg CO2 per pound (1.1 kg per Euro).
The Office of National Statistics
cite an average of 0.82 kg CO2 per pound spent.
The Industrial Design Consultancy
(IDC) also looked at a range of products as part of a typical Christmas Santa's sack. This comprised books, games, electronics and toys.
CO2 saved by buying an old thing not a new thing.
CO2 emissions for manufactured goods are extremely variable.
A useful figure is the amount of CO2 emitted per pound spent on retail goods.
Authoritative sources cite a range of values:
"Carbon Detox": 0.4 kg per pound spent on general goods, rising to 1 kg per pound for electronics goods. Average taken as 0.7 kg.
Greencard: 0.79 kg per pound, averaged over a range of consumer goods.
Office of National Statistics: 0.82 kg per pound, averaged over a range of consumer goods.
Industrial Design Consultancy: 0.8 kg per pound, averaged over a range of consumer goods.
Average value: 0.78 kg per pound.
According to NOP for John Lewis
the average spend on a friend at Christmas is £22.60.
Total forecast spend on gifts this Christmas will be between £307 (Amex / Retail Monitor)
to £435 (British Retail Consortium).
To be conservative we have used the lowest cost retail product in our research, a book or CD. The average price of a top 10 selling DVD on Amazon right now is £12.48 so the average CO2 saving when buying an old thing is:
0.78 * 12.48 = 9.73 kg CO2 approx
CO2 contents of typical consumer retail products.
An average value for the amount of CO2 emitted per pound spent on retail goods is 0.78 kg per pound.
• If we consider a book or CD retailing at 13 pounds then a typical embedded carbon figure is:
0.78 * 13 = 10 kg CO2 approx.
• Items of clothing are more variable but jeans might retail for 25 pounds giving a typical embedded CO2 figure of:
0.78 * 25 = 19.5 kg CO2 approx.
• Items of furniture are also worthwhile reviewing. A leather sofa from DFS might retail at around 600 pounds giving a typical CO2 figure of: 0.78 * 600 = 468 kg CO2 approx.
• A good Laptop PC costing around 1000 pounds would have a typical CO2 figure of:
0.78 * 1000 = 780 kg CO2 approx.
Electronics equipment is more variable and likely to have a higher than average value. In this instance you might want to consider the 1 kg/£ CO2 as more realistic, using the upper range from "Carbon Detox". However there is little difference in carbon between a £300 laptop and a £1000 laptop. In fact normally a £1000 laptop would likely be more energy efficient and have a lower value for operational carbon.
Work done by various Universities and bodies in a recent report by the JISC suggest that for a 'typical' PC and LCD screen, 20% of its overall CO2 is embedded. A typical PC uses 85W and a typical LCD 45W, putting total CO2 emissions at around 700KG, 140KG of which is embedded carbon.
Buying used items of these types can save significant amounts of Carbon emissions.
CO2 embodied in the manufacture of larger items.
At the other end of the scale, if we look at much larger items, e.g. cars, CO2 embodied in manufacture can amount to between 3000 kg and 5000kg of CO2.per car.
In the New Scientist
(17/11/2007) article: "Why bother going green?", the embedded carbon in cars was cited as being between 3000 kg and 5000 kg per car. Assuming that this represents an approx. range of embedded carbon of manufacture for small to large cars respectively, we can compare CO2 savings of new over old cars in terms of CO2 emissions typical annual distances travel.
When we compare embedded CO2 with typical annual fuel consumptions
, the embedded carbon is of a similar magnitude:
medium car- single occupant, 1.6 litre petrol Ford Focus
Assume 12500 miles or 20000 km average annual mileage at a typical emission of 160 g/km
Annual CO2 emissions are 20000 * 0.160 kg = 3200 kg
(ii) large car - single occupant, 2.0 litre petrol Ford Mondeo
Assume 12500 miles or 20000 km average annual mileage at a typical emission of 190 g/km
Annual CO2 emissions are 20000 * 0.190 kg = 3800 kg
(iii) gas guzzler - single occupant, 1.8 litre petrol Landrover Freelander
Assume 12500 miles or 20000 km average annual mileage at a typical emission of 250 g/km
Annual CO2 emissions are 20000 * 0.250 kg = 5000 kg
Typical annual distances travelled, generate a similar amount of CO2 to that embodied in manufacture.
Buying petrol engine cars at all is a controversial environmental issue and one could argue that we should try not buying one at all. That said, buying a second hand car instead of a new one could save an amount of embodied CO2 that is equivalent to a year's CO2 travel emissions.
If the car is less than five years old it is likely that it's fuel consumption is not too different from current models.
Manufacturers still tend emphasise performance over economy so look at fuel efficiency when choosing a vehicle. The Vehicle Certification Agency is a good place to start: http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk
Other ways of saving CO2.
The Carbon Trust report CTC616
indicates that the UK industry produces around 59 million tonnes of CO2 per annum in the production of raw materials, manufacture and distribution of new clothing including an allocation for cleaning and drying. This amounts to an average of around a tonne per person in the UK!
This seems like a lot but bear in mind that manufacturing is generally very wasteful of resources with only a small percentage, on average, appearing in the finished product. As noted previously, only about 7% of the raw materials used in manufacture actually finds its way into retail products.
Even so, someone must be buying a lot of new clothes.
So consider used items instead (there should be lots around).
Newer products have, in general, better energy ratings that old so if you buy used goods, make sure that you check the energy rating of the appliances. The Energy Saving Trust
has on-line information to assist you in this. Cheap purchase may mean expensive running costs.
For example, in the case of used washing machines don't go for anything that has less than an A efficiency rating. Tumble dryers are quite energy hungry so anything that is C rated or better is worthwhile.
Links to other resources
hosts and also offers the following open source carbon calculator for inclusion in other people's web sites. http://trac.co2.dgen.net/wiki/AmeeClients/php
- According to AMEE, concerning the accuracy of their calculator, "The results it produces are being cross-checked by the team at EST (the Energy Savings Trust) to ensure they are compliant with the UK's "Act on CO2? campaign."
- A demo version can be accessed via the following registration page: http://wiki.co2.dgen.net/gavin/dev/demo/
- http://www.eiolca.net has a calculator for impact analyses of different sectors of the economy. So, for example, you can work out how much CO2 is involved in manufacture for every million dollars spent on toys. The most meaningful number is actually GWP (Global Warming Potential) which is all global warming gasses compiled together into a figure that represents their CO2 equivalents - MTCO2E (Metric tons of CO2 Equivalent) . So the global warming potential of a million dollars of dolls, toys and games is 646 MTCO2E.
- The Carbon Footprint organisation also has an on-line calculator: http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.html
- Envirowise - manufacturing focus for waste minimisation and waste avoidance.
- Amazon, Ebay, Freecycle, Bookcrossing - resell your old stuff.
Clothing swap parties: