Fang and Heijungs (2013) make a constructive contribution to the ongoing dialog about environmental footprints and their technical definition. In particular, they highlight that organizations are increasingly the focus of footprinting efforts. From our perspective, this mirrors the increased application of life cycle assessment (LCA) to organizations, where the unit of analysis is the activities of the organization over a defined period of time (e.g., one year). The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently preparing a document describing requirements and guidelines to apply life cycle thinking to organizations (ISO/TS 14072), building on the core LCA standards (ISO 14040/44), which are written from the perspective of assessing products and services.

We think the LCA approach is vital regardless of whether footprinting is applied to products or organizations. In our view, the issues raised by Fang and Heijungs essentially relate to the appropriate definition of the reporting unit (functional unit) and the system boundary. For the transport company given as an example by Fang and Heijungs, the organizational footprint based on LCA would include inputs and outputs related to the organization's activities in providing transport services. This would include the production of fuels used by the business, the operation of vehicles, and the disposal of any significant wastes generated. This would not include the environmental impacts associated with production and use of the products being transported, which are not, in themselves, associated with the provision of the transport service. This is in line with an LCA of a passenger car, where the environmental burdens of the passengers’ lives are also excluded. As such, application of the life cycle approach in organizational footprinting need not be as onerous as Fang and Heijungs suggest. The example they provide in equation (1) is actually taking the added value as a functional unit instead of the total turnover, which is not a contradiction to the LCA perspective suggested by Ridoutt and Pfister (2013). In any case, the goal and scope definition phase of LCA is sufficiently flexible to accommodate all of the conceivable applications of environmental footprinting to both organizations and products.


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