Our mission is to create carbon transparency for every product and enable consumers, brands and retailers to make better informed decisions. Our challenge: carbon emissions as a unit are difficult to grasp for most people. What does it mean when a t-shirt has a carbon footprint of 3.9 kg CO2eq? We always try to find suitable comparative values, for example in the form of miles driven by car or cups of black coffee. Now we have developed a new tool that allows for even better comparability:
Say Hello to our new Benchmarking Tool by Yook!
With this new tool, we're no longer comparing apples and oranges, or T-shirts and car miles. Instead, we compare a product with the industry standard, an average or a selected alternative. Taking the example above, this means: conventional apple from Italy vs. German organic apple. Or: more sustainable t-shirt made of organic cotton and fair production in Portugal vs. industry-average t-shirt made of conventional cotton and production in Bangladesh. Benchmarking further enables sustainable brands to validate their sustainability promises with measurable, comparable data.
As always: transparency-mode full on! Therefore, we explain in this article:
What the benchmarking tool looks like and how it creates transparency regarding carbon emissions
Deep-dive methodology: how we calculate the benchmarking and the comparative values
What challenges we face and how we deal with them
The picture shows the benchmarking tool in action. While the sunglasses have a total footprint of 2.81 kg CO2eq, the industry average product generates 5.38 kg CO2eq. The savings are achieved across the four areas: materials, production, transport and last mile shipping. The left-hand side breaks down which factors are responsible for the lower carbon footprint.
For example, a sustainable sports pants made from recycled PET and organic cotton has a lower material footprint than a pair of sports pants made from conventional PET and cotton. In addition, local production within the EU causes fewer emissions during manufacturing compared to production in Asia due to a more favorable energy mix in the production country and optimized production processes. Due to the shorter transport distances within the EU, emissions are also saved during transport, especially if more sustainable packaging material is used as well. During last mile delivery, carbon emissions can be reduced by using electric vehicles.
This demonstrates concisely how and why a more sustainable product causes fewer carbon emissions than the industry standard. But how do we calculate that?
This is how it works:
The first step is to calculate the product's carbon footprint (PCF) based on the categories material, production, transport + packaging and last mile delivery. You can find out exactly how we do this in in this blog post.
Step 2: The comparison product
In order to better understand and classify the product carbon footprint, we now compare it with the PCF of the industry-standard or -average product. To define and calculate the PCF of this comparison product, our software analyses the 4 parts of the PCF (material, production, transport + packaging and last mile) individually.
First, the materials are replaced with the non-sustainable alternatives that are commonly used (based on market and industry data). For example, we compare a t-shirt made of 95% organic cotton and 5% spandex from recycled plastic with a t-shirt made of 95% conventional cotton from China and 5% spandex from petroleum-based plastic. Thereby, we keep the percentage material distribution and do not change it.
In the production part, the decisive factor is the country in which the product is produced and the energy mix that prevails there. We define a standard production country per category based on market data and compare the energy mix of the two production countries. For example, based on market data we have defined China as the standard production country for sports textiles.
We proceed in the same way for the transport footprint: We define a standard mean of transport per product category by looking at which means of transport are commonly used, and then calculate the average distance between the benchmark country of production and the department store in Germany.
For last mile delivery, we calculate the average distance that packages are shipped if the department store is located in the middle of Germany and the end customers are located throughout Germany. We assume an average delivery vehicle and the average return rate based on the product category.
This allows us to compare and contrast the 4 categories of the PCF step-by-step. The tool helps both brands and shoppers to better understand and classify the carbon footprint of their products or purchases. This is a great start, but we also know that there is still potential for further development and challenges, which is why we are continuously improving the tool.
1. Definition of the standard product
As described above, we do not define the standard product as a fixed product, but compare materials, production and transport step by step. Here, the challenge is to find the material standard that is specific to the product. We use a general replacement mechanism rather than a case-by-case approach. Also, we use the same percentage material distribution and do not adjust it depending on the product type. For example, if a t-shirt has a material content of 60% recycled PET and 40% organic cotton, we benchmark against a t-shirt with 60% PET and 40% conventional cotton, even though typically an average t-shirt is 95% cotton and 5% spandex.
However, we are continuously developing the tool and carefully consider other definitions for standard products and their materials. We also hope that in the future the "new normal" will become better and better, i.e. more and more sustainable. In this case, we will also adapt the benchmarking tool.
2. Trade-off between CO2eq emissions and other impact categories
In some cases, the sustainable product may have a higher partial footprint than the standard product. For example, the energy required for recycling - and thus the carbon footprint - may be higher than for the conventional material alternative. However, this does not mean that the recycled material product is inferior to the industry standard, as there are savings in other areas, such as in resource or water consumption, or in emissions of other pollutants. Since we focus on CO2eq emissions, the benchmarking tool cannot map these factors (yet). We are working on a solution for the future and emphasize the importance of careful communication and information in the meantime.
3. Cradle-to-Gate consideration
Sustainability is complex and is not limited to the production and transport of a product, but also extends to a product’s use and the end-of-life phase. Currently, we do not include these phases in our calculations due to estimation uncertainties. However, we are aware that this also has an enormous influence on the life cycle assessment of a product. Let's take spandex as an example: conventional spandex made from petroleum-based polyurethane is particularly harmful to the climate, not only because of carbon emissions, but above all because of toxic chemicals. Recycled spandex represents an alternative here, which is also associated with a lower emission factor during production, but it cannot be recycled again, which would be noticeable in the end-of-life phase. Biodegradable spandex, in contrast, performs much better in the end-of-life phase, but this is not displayed by us. This illustrates how important it is to take a holistic view and we thus work on continuously improving our software.
Transparency is our top priority. We are aware that we have to carefully check what happens to the data and how it is communicated so that the tool is not used to mislead. We want to help stores and brands to further improve themselves and their product portfolio, to identify carbon hotspots and potential for improvement, and to communicate honestly about successes. Likewise, we want to help online shoppers make better-informed decisions.
Do you have ideas, suggestions or ideas for improvement? As always, we look forward to hearing your feedback!