Developing Interactive Lifecycle Assessment Tools for Consumer-level Goods and Services

Every dollar spent by consumers leaves an environmental footprint in its wake. What is the impact of manufacturing, shipping, and selling an automobile, television, or gallon of milk? Berkeley researchers have developed a method to provide information on the “climate footprints” of more than 1000 types of goods and services—anything anyone can buy—and seek to develop information technology tools to make this information available to consumers, retailers, producers and city governments.

The first step in any pollution reduction strategy is to conduct an inventory of related emissions. However, existing accounting tools available to cities, organizations and individuals overwhelmingly fail to account for the full lifecycle of goods and services consumed. At the same time, sophisticated life-assessment (LCA) tools have been increasingly used by researchers and engineers to evaluate the environmental impacts of projects and production processes; however these tools have not been adequately adapted for use by most decision-makers.

The newly formed “Climate Neutral Living” Program at the Berkeley Institute of the Environment seeks to develop lifecycle assessment tools for local and national applications.

1). A detailed database-driven greenhouse gas calculator for consumer-level purchases, including locally-specific energy, pricing and other data.
2). A model comparing the greenhouse gas emissions of the top 28 U.S. cities, to be updated annually with current consumer expenditures data.
3). Print and multi-media educational materials to help communities “see” the relationship between their spending behavior and the environment, and to guide them towards appropriate actions to reduce their environmental footprints.

Providing consumers with information and options to mitigate their climate impact on the demand side of the climate equation—via product labeling and offsets—can provide important incentives for producers to reduce emissions on the supply side while generating funds for real and significant reductions in greenhouse gases.