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Estimating and Reporting the Comparative Emissions Impacts of Products

There is considerable interest among companies in claiming that their products can help avoid greenhouse gas emissions compared to other products in the marketplace. While it’s true that the use of some products can help to avoid GHG emissions, accurately measuring a product’s impact—whether positive or negative—can be challenging.

WRI researched existing accounting and reporting practices to identify the methodological issues critical to the relevance and credibility of comparative impact estimates.

Using the research findings, this paper outlines a neutral framework for estimating and disclosing both positive and negative impacts of products and provides recommendations for companies to improve the credibility and consistency of their claims.

Executive Summary

This paper introduces a neutral framework for estimating and disclosing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions impact of a product (good or service), relative to the situation where that product does not exist.

The differences may be either negative or positive. Positive differences are frequently called “avoided emissions” and have been the object of much interest among companies trying to develop and promote low-carbon products.

Existing practices for estimating such product impacts vary in terms of many key issues. The intent of the framework is to identify important challenges, harmonize practices, and improve the credibility of companies’ claims, including through the consideration of potential negative impacts.

When estimates are used to inform decision making, they should preferably be developed using “consequential” methods that measure total, system-wide changes in emissions. Because the data available to support these methods are often limited, alternative (“attributional”) methods may also be considered as interim measures for applications that can be supported with an interim attributional approach. For all public claims on comparative emissions impacts that may involve market effects, we recommend the use of the consequential method.

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