A Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) is the most established metric for determining the climate impact of a product.


A Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) is the most established metric for determining the climate impact of a product.

The emissions can come from a variety of sources, such as the energy used to manufacture the product, the materials that go into it, and the transportation of the product from the factory to the point of sale.

Knowing the Product Carbon Footprint, companies and consumers can make better-informed decisions and take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. This can help to protect the environment and combat climate change.


There are different standards for calculating and reporting the GHG emissions associated with a product. They allow for comparability between different products and help organizations to identify areas where emissions can be reduced. These standards are widely used by organizations around the world to measure and manage the environmental impact of their products, and to support environmental labeling and certification initiatives. All relevant standards are built on the principles established in ISO 14040 and ISO 14044.

Cross-sectoral standards

ISO 14067

GHG Protocol Product Standard

PAS 2050

Comparison of Product Carbon Footprint Protocols (2018-10-15)

Standards covering environmental issues beyond climate change

Sector specific standards

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (LCA), sometimes referred to as life cycle analysis, measures the impacts on the environment associated with the life cycle of a product, process, or service. Every part of a product’s life cycle – extraction of materials from the environment, the production of the product, the use phase and what happens to the product after it is no longer used – can have an impact on the environment in many ways. These parts of a product’s life cycle are called life cycle stages. With LCA, you can evaluate the environmental impacts of your product or service from the very first life cycle stage to the very last or to any life cycle stage in between.[2]


  • Cradle to Gate (raw materials until factory gate)
  • Gate to Gate (only focusing on the manufacturing processes)
  • Cradle to Grave (raw materials until disposal)
Product Carbon Footprint | CircularTree | Stages | LCA
Life Cycle Assessment StagesOverview of the life cycle assessment stages from “Cradle to Gate” to “Gate to Gate” until “Cradle to Grave”.

Types of PCF’s

There are two types of PCFs: full PCFs and partial PCFs.

A full Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) covers the entire life cycle of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to the end-of-life stage, and includes all GHG emissions associated with the product, both direct and indirect. This type of PCF provides a comprehensive view of the product’s environmental impact (Cradle to Grave).

A partial Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) encompasses the stages of extraction of resources, manufacturing of precursors, and production of the final product until it exits the company gate (Cradle to Gate). This approach is widely considered to be the industry standard in calculating a PCF. By focusing on these specific stages, it becomes easier to compare the PCF of different products within the same industry. This standardized approach also allows companies to identify areas of their supply chain where they can potentially reduce their GHG emissions.

Life Cylcle | Pathfinder Framwork | WBCSD | CircularTree | Product Carbon Footprint
Life cycle stages included in the boundary of the Pathfinder Framework[3]

Calculation methods

Calculation methods are used to determine the carbon footprint of a product or service, based on a set of rules and guidelines for the specific product category. There are different Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) calculation methods that can be used, depending on the product category and the desired level of accuracy. An overview of the common PCF calculation methods:

Product Carbon Footprint | Lifecycle Stages | Calculation Methods | CircularTree
Different data types used for different calculation method

The spend-based method calculates emissions based on the company’s spending with suppliers. It assumes that the GHG emissions associated with a supplier are proportional to the amount spent on their products or services. This method is quick and easy to implement but less accurate, as it relies on estimates and averages.

The average-data method uses industry averages to estimate the GHG emissions associated with a supplier’s products or services. The sources for these industry averages are derived from secondary data, primarily life cycle assessment (LCA) databases. The average-data is also relatively simple to implement and can be more accurate than the spend-based method. However, it does not reflect the specific emissions of a particular supplier and may therefore underestimate or overestimate emissions.

The supplier-specific carbon calculation method involves collecting detailed data from suppliers about their GHG emissions. This method provides the most accurate picture of a supplier’s emissions. It requires collaboration and data sharing between the company and its suppliers.

In summary, the spend-based and average-data methods are quick and easy to implement but less accurate, while the supplier-specific carbon calculation method provides the most accurate picture but requires more resources and collaboration.

Emissions based on secondary EEIO data.Emissions based on secondary process data.Emissions specific to supplier’s product.
Emission estimates increase due to high inflation and price increase of raw materials.Emission estimates stay the same, as database values are not updated.Emissions are based on actual data from supplier and thus, reductions have a positive impact on the PCF.
2021280 kg/CO2e*190 kg/CO2e*170 kg/CO2e*
2022350 kg/CO2e*190 kg/CO2e*160 kg/CO2e*
* Exemplary GHG emissions for a specific component from a supplier.

CARE Decarbonization Cycle

The CARE Decarbonization Cycle is a useful framework for executing the supplier-specific carbon calculation method. CARE stands for Calculate, Analyze, Report/Request, and Engage.

CARE Decarbonization Cycle | Product Carbon Footprint | CircularTree


The Partnership for Carbon Transparency (PACT) seeks to accelerate decarbonization through the creation of transparency on emissions in the value chain. PACT provides a forum for stakeholders to jointly tackle this challenge, uniting businesses from across industries, technology players, industry-focused initiatives, standard-setting bodies, reporting organizations and regulators in their shared mission. Together, the PACT community defines and publishes the necessary methodological and technological basis for emissions data exchange, integrating existing standards and approaches and creating a trusted and holistic foundation.[5]

The PACT Approach

  • Pathfinder Framework: Ensuring consistent and comparable carbon accounting
  • Pathfinder Network: Enabling the exchange of primary data across value chains


1. Comparison of Product Carbon Footprint Protocols (2018-10-15)


2. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) explained (2022-07-11)


3. Life cycle stages included in the boundary of the Pathfinder Framework (2023-01-09)


4. Different data types used for different calculation methods (2011-09-22)


5. Partnership for Carbon Transparency


6. This new PACT is helping companies fight Scope 3 emissions (2022-11-11)

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