Footprinted! Can we really know how sustainable are our goods?

                                    “Why all these chemicals? To do a laundry
                                        we used just hash!”, my grandmother

What’s the difference between a synthetic cosmetic and a natural one, perhaps homemade, in terms of sustainability? Is the laundry detergent that I have just bought more eco-friendly then a homemade one (for a great and cheap recipe read this post).

My curiosity has led me to search for answers to these questions. Surely almost all of us are sure that a less usage of synthetic compounds is good for the environment (and therefore for us), but what I was looking for was numbers that could confirm it.
Or some way to measure the sustainability of a product.
However, this time Google was unable ….

to help me, as a common method for these measurements has yet to be introduced.

The European Commission is working on a methodology for the calculation of the products’ environmental footprint, that will be accessible by companies. We should just wait for those that will use it and for their will to share the data.
But it will take years, as Michele Galatola, of the European Commission, explain in this interview.

During the waiting we could verify the eco-impact of the last plastic bottle we bought through different sources.
One of these is Footprinted.org, a platform which publishes the carbon and water footprints, together with energy spent and waste produced for 782 cases.
Food, chemical compounds, trasportation, electricity, and others are part of the class of resources that are analysed in terms of carbon and water impact.
To be honest I am looking for an indicator that would include a more variety of elements together with these two, but I am afraid we should wait.

The one below is an example of a chart based on data about carbon emissions of some energy sources found in Footprinted.org.


Even though the products analysed are several, the website is still limited and in some cases not up-to-date, with some dated back to 1995. Additionally, like the example above, they are too generic and not geographically specific.
Due to this scarcity of important information, we cannot compare properly two complex products, such for instance a detergent made by Methylchlorothiazoline and Octylisothiazolinone (I am reading a label) and one made by a bar soap, borax and washing soda.

Another source is represented by the Carbon Trust, a sustainability advisor for companies, which has a database of 27,000 footprints.
Being a private company working with private companies it is unlikely that it would release publicly some of those, but I have sent a FOI anyway in case of mercy.

It is worth to explain that the European Commission intention, and the Carbon Trust one, is to provide a methodology to the companies that will take into consideration “all activities associated with the goods and services of the organisation  from a supply chain perspective (from extraction of raw materials, through use, to final waste management options)“.

However, how interesting and exiting would be to have a platform on which we could just write a list of elements taken from a label and just calculate by ourselves the environmental footprint of something?
Meanwhile, we might use our common sense and have some fun doing (Why not?) some homemade household product.

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