In this chapter we have discussed different types of carbon balances, given examples of typical applications and calculation procedures. Calculation of direct emissions is simple and straightforward. The basics for the calculation of indirect emissions will always be mass and energy balances. The challenge for these balances lies particularly in defining an appropriate scope for the application and gathering the data. Meaningful conclusions from carbon footprints can only be derived if numbers are compared that have been calculated based on a verified scope, with similar methodologies and standards. Thus, one can find substantially differing numbers for the carbon footprint of a unique chemical product. Correctness and accuracy are a matter of doing the balances right and even more of appropriate assumptions and choice of calculation procedures. Arbitrary results are typical where the scope is broad, allocation methods are undefined, and manifold and ambiguous product pathways are included. Carbon footprints are meaningful when they deliver helpful and tangible indicators for decisions and for the search of alternatives. This can be purchasing options like the type of product or material (plastic vs. metal), regional sourcing, or a selection for different producers. For a production company these are typically technical alternatives (synthesis route, efficient equipment), or again sourcing options for example, for energy and raw materials including the decision on production site or region.
We will often not be able to retrieve clear and unique results for carbon footprints without complex and time-consuming calculations and discussions on scopes and methods. However, in most of the cases it is obvious what is beneficial and what is harmful to the climate. We should not take the occasional ambiguity of carbon footprints as an excuse for not acting against climate change.
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