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Assessing the environmental footprint of manufactured products: A

survey of current literature

M. Gaussin
, G. Hu
, S. Abolghasem
, S. Basu
, M.R. Shankar
, B. Bidanda
P ole Syst emes Industriels et Logistiques, Institut Franc-ais de Mecanique Avancee, Clermont Ferrand, France
Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, United States
Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, United States
a r t i c l e i n f o
Available online 21 December 2011
Environmental sustainability
Green manufacturing
Environmental footprint
Standardized performance index
a b s t r a c t
Environmental sustainability has become a high priority for many industries. While the growing
concern to preserve our environment is critical to society and consumers, industries can also realize
additional benets of higher production efciency and lower costs with this emphasis. Current research
has focused on identifying carbon maps of supply chains by assessing the carbon footprint of products.
Little work has been done on establishing methodologies that standardize these attempts. This paper
surveys existing approaches, identies commonly utilized methodologies and looks beyond carbon
criteria for sustainable manufacturing. The challenges of establishing a comprehensive and standar-
dized index based on all the manufacturing aspects, allowing companies to quickly assess the
environmental footprint of their manufactured products, are debated. This exploratory paper also
discusses possible approaches to alleviate shortcomings in current research in this area.
& 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
With the growing concern about climate change and environ-
mental issues, sustainable manufacturing and efcient resource
utilization are gaining popularity with signicant potential in theo-
retical study as well as industrial applications. The most commonly
accepted denition of sustainability and sustainable develop-
ment can be considered as passing on to the future generations
a stock of capital that is at least as big as the one that our
own generation inherited from the previous generations
development-primary-industry 65-211-2.php). A more focused
denition of sustainable manufacturing was developed as part of
the U.S. Department of Commerce report on sustainable manufactur-
ing, where it is dened as the creation of manufactured products
that use processes that are non-polluting, conserve energy and
natural resources, and are economically sound and safe for employ-
ees, communities, and consumers (Westk amper and Alting, 2000).
Therefore, sustainable manufacturing entails implementation of a
range of initiatives at the enterprise level, beginning with the design
stage and throughout the products lifecycle to achieve the afore-
mentioned goals. As illustrated in Fig. 1, such an approach would
necessarily acknowledge that development in the social, environ-
mental and economic dimension is of equal importance toward a
sustainable progress of being responsible in each these areas
(Azapagic and Perdan, 2000; IUCN, 2006).
A management practice akin to the approach described above
is the triple bottom line (TBL) (Bob, 2002; Elkington, 1997). The
approach endeavors to gage economic, social and environmental
performance of a corporation over a period of time with the
intention of being responsible toward the aforementioned.
The TBL is therefore composed of the 3 Ps, Prot, Planet and
People. However, the approach is crippled by the lack of an
adequately quantiable measure that assesses impact of corpo-
rate policy on the 3 Ps concurrently. Wiedmann and Barret
(2010) discuss the shortcomings of environmental footprint (EF)
as a measure and conclude that EF may be used as a qualitative
policy framing tool but not as a quantitative decision parameter,
which might be of higher relevance to success of TBL as described
Against the background of these denitions of sustainability,
this article focusses on approaches for gauging the environmental
impacts (EI) of products which is often a much needed metric for
dening and optimizing sustainability initiatives.
As part of the move toward sustainable manufacturing, it is
important for designers and engineers to be able to quantify new
product designs as well as new manufacturing processes from the
perspective of environmental impacts. The development of the
concept of carbon footprints (CF) is an important rst toward a
universal measure of the EI caused by the product; however, it is
not comprehensive or sufcient. Although CF is related to the
emission of Greenhouse gases, only carbon dioxide levels are
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ijpe
Int. J. Production Economics
0925-5273/$ - see front matter & 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: bidanda@pitt.edu (B. Bidanda).
Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523
gaged in many cases. Furthermore, to exemplify the inadequacy
of this measure, we present the example of deforestation.
Although direct Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions might be
negligible in this event, there will be signicant negative envir-
onmental impact. Another example is the manufacture of canned
seafood, a process with little GHG emission but very signicant
marine ecological impact. CF calculators generally work by
accepting characteristics of individual behavior and by returning
an amount of carbon dioxide emitted as a direct result of such
behavior. Many website CF calculators are available on internet
and Padgett et al. (2008) provide a survey of a few of these and
nd that although these calculators employ similar approaches
for CF estimation, their results often vary by several metric tons
per annum per individual activity. These variations may be due to
differences in calculating methodologies, behavioral estimates,
conversion factors, or other sources. However, the lack of trans-
parency makes it difcult to determine the specic reasons for
these variations and to assess the accuracy and relevance of the
calculations. Sundarakani et al. (2010) discuss Eulerian and
Lagrangian modeling of carbon footprints across the supply chain.
Based on their model, they mark the EIs of various stages of the
supply chain as acceptable, borderline or unacceptable.
Assessing such an index nonetheless increases awareness of
sustainable concerns; it can also help realize additional benets of
higher production efciency and lower costs. The growing pres-
sure from the government and regulatory agencies also helps
ensure that many industries are gradually heading toward the
direction of sustainable manufacturing.
Existing research has focused on identifying carbon maps of
supply chains by assessing the carbon footprint of their products.
Our paper surveys existing approaches and identies commonly
utilized methodologies, as well as existing eco-labeling programs
and initiatives. In addition, we discuss the challenges of establish-
ing a comprehensive and standardized index based on all the
manufacturing aspects, since this will allow companies to quickly
assess the environmental impact of their manufactured products.
This exploratory paper also details possible approaches to alle-
viate shortcomings of current approaches. It is to be however
noted that the paper is not exhaustive; an effort was made to
include the most important/relevant ideas and the work was
intended to be a good starting point for this research.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: Section 2
provides a literature review of current research on characteri-
zation of environmental, Section 3 provides information on
prevalent eco-labeling programs and their symbologies and
Section 4 discusses the challenges and opportunities for develop-
ment of indexes for gauging sustainable manufacturing. Finally,
Section 5 discusses the broader impacts of developing such
an index.
2. Literature review
Current research (and literature) in the area of sustainable
manufacturing can be divided into two mutually exclusive areas.
Each broad area is briey described below.
2.1. Environmental impact and product lifecycle evolution
The effect of human activity on the environment manifests
itself as an Environmental Impact, that is generally negative. A
good denition is that used by Moro n et al. (2009) who dene
environmental impact as the difference between the future state
of the modied environment, as it would be following project
execution, and the future state of the environment as it would
have evolved without such an action.
Though very common and accepted, this notion has never
relied on precise metrics where relevant data can be assessed
using standardized methodologies. The two major approaches to
assessing the environmental/ecological impact are:
(a) Using quantitative data and metrics only, like measurements
of gas emissions and amount of consumed energy, or
(b) Taking broader elements into account, including fuzzy quali-
tative parameters.
Most of the surveys conducted in industry belong to the rst
type. In the food industry, the focus is centered mainly on
Greenhouse-effect gases emissions in the supply chain. The
environmental impact is therefore generally simplied into car-
bon footprint as carbon dioxide is generally considered the most
critical factor in androgenic climate change. The campaign
nanced by PepsiCo Inc. (Martin, 2009) is an illustrative example.
Their brand Tropicana tracked the carbon emissions created to
provide the nal consumers with their orange juice. Another
major retail group based in France (The Casino group), has moved
a step further by adding a carbon label on their products
package (Delahaye, 2008), (http://www.groupe-casino.fr/en/The-
CasinoCarbon-Index-a-green.html). This label details the
amount of greenhouse gases emitted to obtain the product,
displaying it in CO
-equivalent grams for 100 g of product. Such
an initiative was however taken for the rst time by the Walkers
Crisps company in the UK, supported by the carbon trust (http://
www.carbontrust.co.uk/Pages/Default.aspx). This was done by
considering where the potatoes were grown, the manufacturing
process, source of packaging, transport of the crisps to super-
markets and the impact of disposing off the empty packet once
the crisps were eaten. Subsequently, energy consumption directly
involved in each of these stages was calculated and suitably
converted into resulting amount of carbon emissions and added
to produce a nal number. It may be noted that this effort
highlighted inefciencies in their manufacturing process which
was subsequently altered to make it more efcient.
As indexes become more comprehensive, they also get more
complicated and often include a large number of difcult-to-
quantify parameters such as societal impact. In their work
(Jawahir et al., 2006) develop a comprehensive index based on
the design and manufacturing of a sample engineered product.
This work integrates even societal elements, such as safety and
health, in the developed product sustainability index (PSI). This is
a new framework for comprehensively evaluating the sustain-
ability content of a product throughout its entire lifecycle. The PSI
is designed to capture the environmental impact of each product
lifecycle phase. The method is useful in comparing various similar
and competitive products. It should be noted that the product life
cycle evolution in the context of its environmental impact is
described later in this section.
Fig. 1. The three pillars of sustainable development (IUCN, 2006).
M. Gaussin et al. / Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523 516
The proposed indexes however are detailed and need signi-
cant resources both in time and technical content to establish the
index for a single product. Substantial amount of data has to be
gathered and analyzed to assess the different parameters com-
posing the index. Another difcult aspect is the assessment of
fuzzy parameters that sometimes even dont allow for a quanti-
able metric or methodology. The methodology and software
proposed by Moro n et al. (2009) is a step toward offering a
framework and tools to assess and quantify the fuzzy factors such
as persistence, effect, synergy, etc.
In the manufacturing sector, a products lifecycle generally
follows the progression shown in Fig. 2.
Product lifecycle assessment (LCA) and analysis was brought
out largely due to the increased environmental awareness from
the part of public, industry and governments (http://www.gdrc.
org/uem/lca/life-cycle.html). Since then, it has been a powerful
tool to assist manufacturers analyze the processes and improve
products, help government/regulator form legislations and even
inform consumers to make better choices. One of the most
popular tools in LCA is lifecycle costing analysis (Pesonen,
2001), in which environmental issues and green values are taken
into account. Nowadays, lifecycle analysis is being recognized as a
standard tool in sustainable product management arena.
Traditional methods in the sustainable product lifecycle man-
agement are often conceptual. Labuschagne and Brent (2005)
point out that current project management framework does not
effectively address the three goals of sustainable development
(i.e., social equity, economic efciency and environmental perfor-
mance). They outline the needs of sustainable development and
propose several ways to achieve the true sustainable lifecycle
management in the manufacturing sector.
Existing literature has also often focused on a single lifecycle
stage. Schmidt et al. (2001) conduct an experiment to examine
the effectiveness of new product development and project con-
tinuation decisions. Their suggestion is that teams make more
effective decisions than individuals, and virtual teams (not com-
municating face-to-face) make the most effective decisions. Yet,
this study is primarily qualitative in nature. In another analysis,
Day (1981) discuss the factors that determine the progress of the
product through the stages of the lifecycle and the role of the
product lifecycle concept in the formulation of competitive
Focusing on the manufacturing process stage, Martins et al.
(2007) propose four 3D metrics: material intensity, energy inten-
sity, potential chemical risk and potential environmental impact.
This framework can be effective in selecting more sustainable
process from a group of candidates. Sheng and Hertwich (1998)
conducted an overview of the planning and design decisions and
proposed indexes for comparative waste assessment in environ-
mentally conscious manufacturing industry.
Silva et al. (2009), Wanigarathne et al. (2004) and Ungureanu
et al. (2007) present different versions of Jawahir et al. (2006)
assessment methods for evaluating sustainability characteristics
applied in various manufacturing industries, including consumer
electronics and auto body panels by considering both design,
development, machining, and recycling processes.
Wiedmann and Minx (2008) propose the denition of carbon
footprint with the concept of entire product lifecycle evolution: The
carbon footprint is a measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide
emissions that is directly and indirectly caused by an activity or is
accumulated over the life stages of a product. The major quantify-
ing metric here is carbon dioxide emission. However, as noted
earlier, this is only one aspect of environmental impact, contributing
signicantly to global warming but limited in scope, especially since
there are other impacts (arguably as important), such as waste
water generated, chemical usage, etc., that can also be computed.
It is essential for manufacturers to consider decision making
from the perspective of entire product lifecycle. Toyota Motor
Corporation is one of the pioneer car manufacturers that launched
the sustainable manufacturing initiatives (http://www.apo-
tokyo.org/gp/e_publi/survey_gpp/japan_toyota_case.pdf). Toyota
established the Toyota Environmental Action Plan in 1993 and
after that a series of company-wide sustainable manufacturing
initiatives have been implemented. From the organizational
framework, material procurement to production process and
management of environmentally hazardous substance, the com-
pany has been working toward the goal of Zero Emission.
Zhang et al. (1997) discuss environmentally conscious design
and manufacturing (ECD&M) which is a view of manufacturing
that includes the social and technological aspects of the design,
synthesis, processing, and use of products in continuous or
discrete manufacturing industries.
Fig. 3 illustrates the categories and relationship of relevant
bodies of literature. The three shaded circles represent the
research concepts and methodologies used in order to better
quantify the sustainability performance in industrial practice. The
three unshaded circles represent the stakeholders or decision
makers who may be involved in the process. With the increasing
need for quantitative metrics, operations research methodologies
are used more often in the sustainability quantifying process.
With the quantitative decision support tools, various stakeholders
will be able to make more rational decisions.
Fig. 2. Product lifecycle evolution process.
Fig. 3. Categories and relationship of relevant literature.
M. Gaussin et al. / Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523 517
2.2. Closed-loop supply chain
The pressure on companies to incorporate the principles of
sustainable manufacturing into business decision making is
growing. The concept of 3R: reduce, reuse, and recycle was
developed as part of this process. Many European countries
require their manufacturers take back their used products and
dispose them properly (without negative effects to the environ-
ment). In addition, remanufacturing companies have emerged in
manufacturing industry. These entities, either a separate com-
pany or a subsidiary of the original equipment manufacturer, take
used products from the customer, refurbish/recycle them and
resell them at a prot. This is often referred to as reverse logistics
or closed-loop supply chain management.
Much research has been conducted in the reverse logistics and
closed-loop supply chain management eld. Van Wassenhove,
Guide and Fleischmann are major researcher contributors in the
closed-loop supply chain and remanufacturing arena. They have
initiated multiple strategic and managerial level studies and most
conclude that remanufacturing, if implemented properly, can be
benecial for both the company and the entire society (Guide and
Wassenhove, 2001; Zhang et al., 1997). Later, these arguments
were bolstered by quantication based on mathematical models.
Studies were focused on how the closed-loop supply chain and
reverse logistics should be implemented in the manufacturing
sector. Case studies and surveys were also carried out to provide
application support for quantitative studies in the closed-loop
supply chain and reverse logistics areas. The concept of 3R:
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle has been very popular since its
inception. Nowadays, 3R is extended to the concept of 6R:
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, Redesign, Recover and Remanufac-
ture, since the new concept can assist the process of improving
sustainability in the product design and manufacturing processes
(Joshi et al., 2006).Rusinko (2007) conducted a survey on the
commercial carpet industry and found that the environmentally
sustainable manufacturing practices may be positively associated
with the competitive outcome. This is helpful to the managers
when they respond to environmental and competitive demands.
A closely related aspect of supply chain management is Green
Supply Chain Management (GSCM) dened as green procure-
mentgreen manufacturinggreen distributionreverse logistics.
The idea of GSCM is to eliminate or minimize waste (energy,
emissions, and chemical/hazardous solid wastes) along supply chain
(Hervani and Helms, 2005). In a research by (Simpson et al. (2007)
the impact of relationship conditions between the customer and the
supplier on the customer environmental requirements known as
Green Supply is explored. The methodology was to explore these
requirements taking into account specic relationship conditions
(investment, contracting and monitoring routines). Zhu and Sarkis
(2007) discuss and hypothesize the relationship of economic and
environmental performance with institutional (market, regulatory
and competitive) pressures. Further, Zhu and Sarkis (2004) also
discuss relationship between operational pressures and perfor-
mance among early adopters of GSCM in Chinese manufacturing
enterprises.Hervani and Helms (2005) discuss performance mea-
surement aspects of GSCM and challenges in establishing such a
measure.Ninlawan et al. (2010) discuss the aspects of GSCM in
electronics industry in Thailand including involved activities and
suggestions to attain good GSCM practices.
3. Current eco-labeling programs paradigms and their
In the previous section some research thrusts on the char-
acterization of environmental impact in the context of sustainable
manufacturing were outlined. This section details some concep-
tual aspects of eco-labeling programs/initiatives that seek to
encapsulate the results of the overall environmental impact
An overarching goal of several eco-labeling programs is to
encourage environmentally responsible purchasing habits among
consumers and motivate manufacturers to innovate and adopt
production practices that are progressively sustainable. The Green
House Gas (GHG) Protocol Initiative has developed a suite of tools
to assist companies in calculating their emissions of six Green-
house Gases covered by the Kyoto protocol. It has also prepared
guidance documents such as the GHG Protocol for project
accounting and provides standards and guidance for companies
and other organizations preparing a GHG emissions inventory.
The GHG Protocol Initiative is a decade-long partnership between
the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business
Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCSD) and provides a
framework for almost every GHG standards and program in the
world (Sinden, 2009; WRI and WBCSD, 2004).
The assessment of GHG emissions arising from goods and
services is emerging as a high prole application of LCA, with an
increasing desire from retailers and other supply chain organiza-
tions to better understand, and in some cases communicate, the
carbon footprint of products. Publicly Available Specication
(PAS) 2050:2008 for the assessment of life cycle GHG emissions
of goods and services addresses global warming to provide a
standardized and simplied implementation of doing this. The
use of PAS 2050 to rene, clarify and simplify existing LCA
methods and standards, has resulted in the development of
specic approaches to key GHG assessment issues (WRI and
WBCSD, 2004). Further guidance on communicating and reducing
product carbon footprint information is presented in the Code of
Good Practice for Product Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Reduc-
tion Claims (Carbon Trust, 2008). In addition, PAS 2050 brings
together relevant methods and approaches in the eld of GHG
assessment like (International Organization for Standardization)
ISO 14064:2006 (description follows), IPCC publications (IPCC
2006, 2007) and the GHG Protocol (WRI and WBCSD, 2004).
ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, is an
international-standard-setting body composed of representatives
from various national standards organizations (http://
www.iso.org/iso/home.html). ISO standards directly related to
climate change include ISO 14067 (under development) and are
associated with measurement of carbon footprint of products. The
ISO 14067 would complement other published standards (ISO
14064 and ISO 14065) which provide an internationally agreed
framework for measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ver-
ifying claims made about them, and accrediting the bodies which
carry out such activities. ISO 14067 would provide requirements
for the quantication and communication of the GHGs associated
with products. There will be two parts for this objective: quanti-
fying the carbon footprint (Part1); and harmonized methodolo-
gies for communicating the carbon footprint information and also
provide guidance for the communication (Part 2). More standar-
dization documents may be found in the website.
The European Union (EU) Ecolabel (also known as the ower
because of their logo) is a voluntary ecological product award
issued by the 1980/2000 Regulation of the European Commission
(EC) (Baldo et al., 2009). Adopting the ISO classication, the EU
Ecolabel belongs to the Type I environmental labelling (ISO
14024:1999). EC was involved in a project that aimed at devel-
oping and checking a CF calculation procedure that would
account for GHG Emissions. This would aid the EC during EU
Eco label certications. The output tool from this project (an
EXCEL le) was developed so that it was useful while formulation
of policies by the EC, the EU Ecolabel Board and the Ad Hoc
M. Gaussin et al. / Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523 518
Working Group (AHWG, created to develop a transparent and
wide discussion with reference stakeholders). The CF measure-
ment toolkit development followed the LCA approach and
involved the sum of two main types of GHG emissions, Direct/
primary footprint: mainly due to the combustion of fuels in the
applicant plant and during the electricity generation and indirect/
secondary footprint: GHG generated from all the other sources.
Another initiative is Japans disclosure of CO
program focusing on illustration of CO
emissions of consumer
products as carbon footprint (CF). Nansai et al. (2009) describe
their application of inputoutput analysis along with the full
advantage of the strengths of input-output analysis. The appli-
cation of this analysis and judicious selection of input categories
are very useful in ensuring the accuracy of CF for household
commodities which also improve the reliability of CF calculation.
In this method the global carbon footprint (GCF) of food and
consumables are estimated in Japan using a global link input-
output model which has the entire world as a boundary system.
Finally, visualizing the GCF on the world map, the global CO
distribution is identied.
A signicant amount of research has been done on the
environmental impact measurements of supply chains. Zhu and
Sarkis (2007) discuss a measurement model for GSCM practices
implementation. They collect data from 341 industries in China
and implement and compare two measurement models. We note
parenthetically, that most of these thrusts have encapsulated
much of the environmental impact in terms of the GHG emission.
As noted earlier, while this is an important parameter, arrays of
environmental burdens are often associated with manufactured
products which may not be adequately captured within these
To encapsulate a range of these assessments, the following
symbologies are popularly utilized by manufacturers in charac-
terizing their products. But, often the certiers basic standards in
evaluating the products vary enormously, and therefore we lack a
common platform to build and compare these indexes. A common
criticism of such approaches is that these seals are often conferred
upon products for a fee without any quantitative monitoring,
while others use vaguely dened and difcult-to-quantify
3.1. Energy Star
It is administered by the Department of Energy (DOE) and
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Appliances carrying the
Energy Star typically are 10 to 20% more energy efcient than non-
rated models. Energy Star specications differ with each item and
that is also different from European labeling system. Energy Star
5.0 became effective on July 1, 2009. The EPA for computer server
specications covers standalone servers with one to four processor
sockets and they are now working on covering servers with more
than four processor sockets. Although Energy Star clearly denes
criteria that would make a product Energy Star worthy, Energy
Star does not provide an index showing the level of sustain-
ability a product promises. This may have drastic circumstances
as two Energy Star certied products may differ slightly in their
power ratings but would be sold in thousands, possibly millions,
magnifying the impact (http://www.energystar.gov/).
3.2. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Forest Stewardship Council sets forth principles, criteria, and
standards that span economic, social, and environmental con-
cerns to guide forest management toward sustainable outcomes.
It includes stakeholders with a diverse array of perspectives on
what represents a well-managed and sustainable forest. The FSC
standards for forest management have now been applied in over
57 countries around the world. Although FSC focuses on timber
products, they also work on non-timber products (e.g. Brazil nuts)
and other environmental services such as clean water and air and
carbon sequestration (http://www.fscus.org/). However, the FSC
lacks a numerical index representative of the efforts taken to
make a facility or process sustainable; Their approach rely on the
binary measure of product sustainability which cannot convey
much information to the customer to know where exactly the
product is from the sustainability point of view.
3.3. Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
EPEAT is a certication company that focuses on electronic
components and is based on the public standards described in the
IEEE 1680 document. EPEAT offers bronze, silver and gold levels of
certication, based on the number of criteria that a product
satises. So, bronze if the product meets all 23 of the required
criteria, silver if a product satises 2350% of optional criteria
and gold if the product satises 2375% of the required criteria
(http://www.epeat.net/). This makes it extremely easy to differ-
entiate between products that are EPEAT certied with bronze
compared to gold. An implication is, different companies would
try to make products that are gold certied, for a better reputa-
tion. This brings to light, the importance of a clever grading
scheme, pointing toward a sustainability index. This is illustrated
in Fig. 4.
3.4. EcoLogo
EcoLogo compares products/services with others in the same
category, develops scientically relevant criteria that reect the
entire lifecycle of the product, and certies those that are veried
by an independent third party as complying with the criteria. It
also scrutinizes products for environmental impact throughout
their life cycle, including manufacturing, use and disposal. Criteria
for a category are developed using a Technical brieng note (TBN)
examining the life cycle of a product. After a review committee
formulates the proposed guidelines a public review is done and
once it is accepted by the government the nal guideline is
released (http://www.environmentalchoice.com/en/index.asp).
EcoLogo has the innovative capability of certifying a product as
well a service, which the common eco-labeling organizations
Fig. 4. EPEAT index.
M. Gaussin et al. / Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523 519
dont have. However, like most other organizations, EcoLogo lacks
a numerical index in its certication.
EcoLogo and EPEAT have partnered. Implications of this are
that manufacturers will be able to register products in the EPEAT
system by working directly with EPEAT or by working with
EcoLogo. The two organizations also collaborate on technical
product verication, which is key to the EPEAT registrys product
assessment process (http://www.ecologo.org/en/partnerships/).
4. Challenges and opportunities
Among the common difculties in constructing a sustainable
index are uncertainties due to the selection of the most repre-
sentative indicator. This clearly indicates that the forms we
presently use are insufcient and there is a lack of science of
sustainability. Several examples of the well-known composite
environmental index (CEI) (Giannetti et al., 2009) have been
established so far: the ecological footprint (Rees and
Wackernagel, 1996), the wellbeing index (Prescott-Allen, 2001),
and the Ecosystem service product (Sutton and Costanza, 2002).
However, the existing methodologies have focused on environ-
mental aspects and little work has been done with emphasis on
manufacturing processes. Most of them look at the product from
micro level and that makes the whole work to be done for each
different product from rst principles although there may be
some common processes. This would build-in signicant redun-
dancy in the efforts. An example of this redundancy may be
illustrated exemplifying steel manufacturing processes using two
different methods, the basic oxygen method and the Bessemer
process (now obsolete). The preliminary processes in both involve
melting iron ore. A micro level approach would entail calculating
the sustainability index for this step twice (for the two different
ways of making steel), leading to wastage of resources. If, a level
of modularity can be achieved during the calculation of indexes,
say using the type of macro level approach discussed in Section
4.4, such redundancies can be eliminated and calculations can be
substantially simplied and standardized. LCA databases that can
help achieve this are available for download from ecoinvent
center (http://www.ecoinvent.org/database/).
Here, we detail the challenges in establishing a comprehensive
and standardized index to assess the environmental impact of a
manufactured product.
We assume here that the main objective of a sustainability
index is to:
(a) Provide the informed consumer with a standardized metric to
compare products and also to establish their environmental
(b) Guide manufacturing and distribution companies in their
decision making both in the area of product design and
manufacturing process.
In order to do so, such an index must cover the three areas
displayed in Fig. 3. The idea is therefore to develop and imple-
ment an index accurate enough to ensure proper decision making
but at the same time simple enough and not be computationally
resource intensive.
We propose ve major features that must characterize an ideal
index. These are as follows:
4.1. It must be simple and accurate
The existing efforts found in the literature reviewed in the
previous section could be categorized into three types: the
simple, narrow focus and highly operational efforts that could
possibly be applied to every sector, the intermediate-range work
that is often specialized to a certain area (carpet industry,
chemicals, etc) and the very comprehensive and exible work.
To assess product sustainability, an index must be comprehensive
and not rely solely on GHG emissions. As discussed earlier, GHG
emission is an essential but incomplete measure of the environ-
mental impact. But, such comprehensiveness would have to be
counterbalanced with an ability to characterize the entire supply-
chain within a practical framework. This would naturally require
an optimally chosen balance between accuracy, exhaustiveness
and comprehensiveness. A potential example of this balance
would be the case of the Energy Star protocol.
4.2. It must have the ability to be computed at the design stage.
Most of existing sustainability assessment methodologies
consider existing products and other methodologies apply to
the design stages. The ideal industrial sustainability index will
denitely have to assess the environmental impact of a manu-
factured product in a way that enables to deal with both existing
and only design-stage products. This will allow companies to use
the same consistent index at every step of a product creation and
improve decision making by giving the opportunity to compare in
relevant way the impact of existing and to-be products. Energy
Star exemplies this again.
4.3. It must be repeatable and standardized
Another really important aspect is the need to use the same
standardized methodology for every company and product. The
same product manufactured with the same processes in the same
country should always have consistent footprint assessments,
whatever the company or context. This is a key condition to
ensure that the environmental impact index can be used by
companies for benchmark purpose or to involve consumers into
the sustainability effort. The really interesting idea of directly
linking the sustainability index scores with the ofcial rules and
recommendations, using for example a weighted scale, is also
meaningless if the methodology doesnt have a high level of
repeatability. A method of realizing this might be to rely on
generic parameters like Chemical Oxygen demand, measure of
heavy metal used, etc. which can accommodate changes in the
manufacturing processes plan more easily.
4.4. Input data to the index should be available in the public domain
The last big challenge we identied is to build the ideal
sustainability index framework on public access data. This would
of course help achieve the previously detailed repeatability goal
but would also make the methodology accessible to any company
and product. Massive international manufacturers would thus not
anymore be the only ones able to afford environmental impact
assessments. An indirect implication of this is the transparency of
data and procedures, which would enable the elucidation of
modular data sets for an array of subprocesses and material
handling steps that can signicantly simplify the characterization
of the sustainability indexes.
The work accomplished by the Good Guide organization
(http://www.goodguide.com/about) is an excellent example of
the direction that environmental sustainability assessment for
manufactured goods should take in this regard. The organization
provides ratings to customers publicly and freely with ratings and
rankings of products based on a rating-algorithm which takes into
account more than 600 criteria, including health, social and
environmental aspects. However, their for prot organization
status limits them from sharing the precise algorithms they use or
M. Gaussin et al. / Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523 520
providing access to raw data from their (presumably) very
extensive huge database.
4.5. It should be easily interpreted by a consumer
The display challenge is implied by all the challenges identi-
ed. Although to help companies making decision toward sus-
tainability and to involve the consumer into sustainable
manufacturing the index should contain enough information by
itself to really allow assessing a relevant environmental impact of
a product, it should be condensed as much as possible. We should
eventually end up with a single score as it is obviously almost the
only one type of ecological footprint display that industry is
willing to use. Casino Carbon Index, the rst complete environ-
mental labeling system in France, calculated the carbon index
according to the emission of greenhouse gases generated by a
product throughout the main stages of its life cycle. The carbon
index used by them (Fig. 5) is an interesting idea in this direction;
the front side of the packaging the index is symbolized by a green
leaf with a gure giving the quantity of Greenhouse gases emitted
for 100 g of the product(a) and on the back of the packaging the
index is shown as a green band which gives the position of the
environmental impact of the product on a scale of the levels with
graduations which gives the score and displays it directly on a
(fuzzy) weighted scale.
Other food indexes related to the estimated average require-
ments are really good examples for they provide a gure and link
it with the percentage of the ofcial recommendations it repre-
sents. This avoids the hard-to-grasp implications of carbon
indexes released so far which provide only a gure impossible
for most people to directly interpret. An easily interpreted graphic
interface akin to the European Union Energy Label (http://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_energy_label) or the U.S.
Energy Star program Energy Guide Label (http://www.energystar.
gov/index.cfm?cappliances.pr_energy_guide) may be particu-
larly useful for encapsulating the salient characteristics with
substantial broader impacts.
In addition to the characteristics described above a study
showed that nearly 60% of sustainability claims do not rely on a
third-party assessment (http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/
SM_clmst_sum) and are therefore not necessarily unbiased. This
aspect would not be in question if a global and standardized
methodology is used which will allow easy proving of internal
assessments. Now eco-labeling programs are compared in
Table 1.
In these contexts, the various eco-labeling programs are
compared in Table 1 in possessing different properties. First one
is being simple and as shown all four Eco-labeling programs are
using simple enough symbologies to communicate easily to the
customer. The next property is being repeatable and standardiz-
able. Among all, FSC does not have this property. Other typical
properties of the programs are also compared and as explained
earlier, none of the mentioned eco-labeling programs have a
quantitative index that offers a reliable framework for comparing
products and manufacturing processes and designs.
5. Summary and conclusions
Sustainability in the manufacturing sector is essential in the
process of sustainable development for the whole society. How-
ever, implementing the concepts and quantifying the effects in
real-life applications remains to be resolved.
As the factors to be considered throughout the products
lifecycle increase, more and more companies call for a more
straightforward, resource efcient yet comprehensive index/
The objective of this exploratory paper was to summarize
metrics developed in the literature and to propose a set of
characteristics that are needed to compose a relevant and effec-
tive sustainability performance index. Figs. 5 and 6 provide a
graphic representation of the current state of sustainability
assessment in industry and literature. They also show the recom-
mended direction for future research toward the ideal
sustainability index. Fig. 5. Casino Group Carbon Index (Rees, 1992).
Table 1
Properties of Eco-labeling Programs.
Program Simple? Repeatable &
3rd party?
Yes Yes No Yes No No
FSC Yes No No No Yes
EcoLogo Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
EPEAT Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
M. Gaussin et al. / Int. J. Production Economics 146 (2013) 515523 521
The direction is toward maximizing the completeness/com-
prehensiveness while minimizing the necessary data and other
resources. Resources include time, budget and labor and by
completeness on the x axis it is meant to include the features of
an ideal index that encapsulates the various dimensions of
sustainability factored across the lifecycle and through the pro-
ducts design, manufacturing supply-chain; hence in can be
concluded that the bottom right of the sustainability assessment
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