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Last Update:2023.11.09

Advanced decarbonization platform "LCA Plus" looks to the future

"LCA Plus" is a decarbonization platform that enables the calculation of CO2 emissions per product or service. We asked the person in charge about the features of this globally pioneering solution and the background behind the creation of "LCA Plus".

LCA Plus, a decarbonization platform that enables the calculation of CO2 emissions per product or service. LCA Plus was conceived in the latter half of 2020 as a new project of Mitsui & Co. We interviewed four people in charge of the project to find out how this globally pioneering service, which enables management of CO2 emissions while visualizing them with precision, was created and what its features are.

Visualization of CO2 emissions per product/service from cradle to grave

--LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) refers to CO2 emissions per unit of product or service.
Hasegawa: Taking the personal computer in front of us as an example, the "life cycle" is a series of processes that include procurement of raw materials for each component, processing, assembly, commercialization, use of the computer by consumers, disposal and recycling, as well as transportation between processes. The concept of LCA is often expressed as "from cradle to grave," and it is the concept of LCA that calculates in detail how much CO2 is emitted at each stage of the process.
Akihiko Hasegawa, Assistant General Manager, Strategic Planning Office, Iron & Steel Products Division, Mitsui & Co. joined Carrier in 2020. In his previous position, he was in charge of business development and consulting. He said, "Fortunately, we were able to develop our services ahead of other companies. It was both interesting and difficult to launch the service while collaborating with other departments on different floors and at different locations.
--What is the difference between supply chain emissions (Scope 1, 2, and 3) as defined in the GHG Protocol?
Hasegawa: In Scope 1, 2, and 3 of the GHG Protocol, CO2 emissions are calculated from the procurement of raw materials to the disposal and recycling of products, and we provide calculation services through "e-dash," but the scope of this calculation is on a business or company basis. In contrast, LCA differs in that it visualizes emissions at the product or service level.
We have interviewed various companies and found that there is a high demand for visualization of CO2 emissions per product in addition to the calculation of CO2 emissions per business site or company.
--Why is there a high need for per-product visualization?
Hasegawa: Calculation of CO2 emissions at each business or company is done as a rough estimate using accounting data. Most of them do not specify where and how much CO2 is emitted from their products, partly because their purpose is to "disclose and report" CO2 emissions. On the other hand, some industries and companies have started to report the calculation of CO2 emissions per product across the supply chain, and there is a growing need to visualize CO2 emissions per product for "the purpose of actual CO2 reduction actions" and "to ensure competitiveness in product and service development.
--So LCA Plus was created based on such feedback.
Kitada: I originally dealt with plastic materials, but around 2019, before the Corona disaster, especially from European automakers, I began to receive requests to provide CO2 emissions for each product. At first I was not sure what to do, but I studied it and consulted with the chemical manufacturers who were our suppliers. That's when they, too, had trouble responding.
On the other hand, in the Iron & Steel Products Division, there was a similar request from our client, an automobile manufacturer, and the supplier was wondering how to respond to it. Seeing multiple suppliers struggling with the same problem of not knowing how to calculate CO2 emissions at the same time, I began to think, "Isn't this a business opportunity?" I began to think that it was around 2019-2020.
Shuhei Kitada, Assistant General Manager, Industrial Materials Business Office, Performance Materials Division, Mitsui & Co. He joined Mitsui in 2010 and has mainly handled chemicals and plastics, mainly for the automotive industry. He has been dealing mainly with chemicals and plastics, mainly for automobiles. I still have a lot to learn, but I am willing to take on new challenges.
Sakuma: Just as we were beginning to consider the commercialization of this business opportunity, former Prime Minister Kan's declaration to "achieve carbon neutrality by 2050" also provided a tailwind.
Yurino Sakuma, Green Steel Initiative Promotion Office, Next Generation Business Development Department, Iron & Steel Products Division, Mitsui & Co. She has been mainly involved in the export of tinplate and sheet steel. When the DX Task Force advertised for team members to work on the commercialization of a decarbonization platform in 2020, I saw this as an opportunity and joined the team.
--It is a rare case for two different departments to jointly launch a business.
Hasegawa: Of course we shared the same point of view, but we also resonated with each other in that both business units handle materials and were troubled by customers' requests to calculate CO2 emissions.

Both manufacturers and suppliers were having trouble with LCA calculations.

--What are your specific concerns?
Hasegawa: Using automobiles as an example, tens of thousands of parts are used to make a single car. As an automobile manufacturer, you are concerned not only about the management of these parts, but also about the differences in the way each supplier handles CO2 emissions.
On the other hand, for suppliers, it is necessary to trace back the raw materials and material procurement to calculate CO2 emissions in a precise manner. They were wondering how to respond to requests from manufacturers, such as whether they should do it on their own or not, or whether they knew how to do it in the first place. LCA Plus" is a service that provides a platform connecting the two.
--Are there any competitors in the platform business related to LCA calculations?
Hasegawa: I am aware that there is currently one company in Japan and one worldwide. I think it is quite small, or even none at all. On the other hand, the fact that there are few competitors may mean that the market has not yet attracted attention, and we must consider the future expansion of the market.
--Do you mean that you don't know how much the movement of LCA calculations will spread?
Hasegawa: At present, what companies are required to do is to estimate how much CO2 they are emitting on a business or corporate basis. However, this makes it difficult to draw up concrete actions for decarbonization. On the other hand, some companies are questioning whether it is really necessary to calculate emissions in a precise manner in accordance with ISO standards.
In order for LCA to spread, we believe it is necessary for many companies to recognize the need for precise emissions accounting, and for the concept and approach of LCA to become the de facto standard and gain "citizenship" in the process.
-I'm sure those interested in decarbonization will see the term "LCA" a lot, but it's just starting to become a concrete movement.
Hasegawa: Of course, there are companies that have already started initiatives, but many are still struggling. 26 companies from large to small companies in the automotive industry participated in the "LCA Plus" verification experiment in 2021, and we conducted trial-and-error calculations of emissions from representative products. We then cleared up each company's concerns one by one.

Jointly developed LCA calculation method with SuMPO (Sustainable Management Promotion Organization)

--Is there already a rule on how to calculate LCA?
Hasegawa: In large part, the ISO 14000 environmental management series defines the concept. However, the ISO does not provide specific calculation methods or guidelines, only expressions such as "it is desirable to do this.
LCA Plus was developed jointly with SuMPO (Sustainable Management Promotion Organization), the only carbon footprint certification organization in Japan, to provide specific LCA calculation methods (guidelines) based on ISO.
Manabe As for guidelines, each country has its own EPD (Type III Environmental Declaration) certification program for environmental labels similar to ISO. In Japan, "EcoLeaf" issued by SuMPO falls under that category, and the guidelines presented in "LCA Plus" are guidelines based on that standard. Therefore, you can use the data from "LCA Plus" when you obtain the "EcoLeaf" label certification from SuMPO.
Polyolefin Business Office, Performance Materials Division, Performance Materials Division, Mitsui & Co. Yu Manabe joined Mitsui in 2018. He has been mainly responsible for export and tri-nation logistics support of plastic raw materials. 'It's tough to gain new knowledge about LCA, web production, PR videos, etc., but it's also very rewarding to have more opportunities to talk directly with many customers.'
--Is it safe to assume that "LCA Plus" will become the standard in Japan in the future?
Hasegawa: One of our goals is to become the de facto standard not only domestically but also globally. I used the word "citizenship" earlier. In Japan, we are engaged in liaison activities not only with companies but also with related organizations, such as ministries and industry associations.
--So you are promoting the service in Japan while also keeping an eye on trends overseas. What were some of the difficulties you encountered before launching the service?
Hasegawa: What we felt after listening to our customers' feedback was their apprehension about taking the first step. However, there were few companies that immediately decided to use "LCA Plus" because they were not sure which service or platform would be the frontrunner in the future. However, there were few companies that could make an immediate decision to use LCA Plus.
Kitada: I also felt that the need for visualization of CO2 emissions and LCA calculations has not penetrated to the frontlines. It is often the sales and development staff of each product or factory who actually input data and calculate emissions. It is difficult to get them to understand the necessity of LCA calculation.
Sakuma: In terms of service, the way you understand and see LCA will vary depending on your level of experience in the field. We struggled to strike a balance between being easy to use for all users, from beginners to experts, and maintaining a certain level of quality.
Manabe: In creating the service website, it was difficult to know how to approach this site, as there are exactly a variety of people with different levels of proficiency. Some people want to know the basics about decarbonization, such as the Paris Agreement, while others want to know about the specifics of the system. We struggled to design a site that was both friendly, catchy visuals and specialized.

Knowing the recipe for manufacturing each product and the amount of materials and energy used is the first step.

--What should the person in charge do first after introducing "LCA Plus"?
Kitada To show you a sample, the CO2 emissions of a certain car's bumper was 13 kg. To calculate this, if the necessary data is organized in Excel, it can be uploaded and calculated together.
When entering the data one by one, first enter the name of the material used and the amount used. Then, since the CO2 emission intensity of each material is implemented in "LCA Plus," the calculation is automatically performed by linking them together.
--What is meant by intensity?
Kitada: Intensity unit is a CO2 emission coefficient, which indicates, for example, the amount of CO2 emitted to produce 1 kg of iron. The database implemented in LCA Plus is called "IDEA," which is a leading emission factor database in Japan. The Japanese emissions averages are contained in it, so it does not matter which manufacturer made the product, the average CO2 emissions can be produced.
-- So you have no problem with averages.
Kitada: The average values provided by IDEA are called secondary data, but LCA Plus can also perform calculations using real data (primary data) provided by suppliers, and you can choose which one to use. Although primary data enables more precise calculations, it requires more time and effort to collect the data, so the standard approach at this point is to "first try using secondary data for calculations.
-- I see. So, the first thing the person in charge should do is to know the recipe for manufacturing the product and the amount of materials and energy used?
Kitada Yes, that is correct. As an initial step, it is difficult to grasp that first.
--I know that many companies have overseas factories.
Kitada: We are also looking at global deployment, since the "IDEA" database of CO2 emissions intensity shows average values for Japan, a different intensity database from "IDEA" may be required when calculating emissions overseas. In such cases, the database can be used if input is provided by the customer.
In the future, we are discussing the implementation of overseas emission factor databases in "LCA Plus".
-What should we consider when drawing up reduction actions after calculating the LCA?
Kitada: LCA Plus calculates CO2 emissions for each material and process used, and displays the top five most emitting materials, allowing you to consider specific reduction actions for materials with high CO2 emissions.
In the bumper example above, the material with the highest CO2 emissions is aluminum. In this case, we can consider measures to reduce emissions, such as reducing the amount of aluminum used, switching to a different material, and reducing the amount of electricity used at the plant during manufacturing, and simulate the reductions that would result from implementing these measures.

In the future, various businesses will be created within "LCA Plus".

--Is it safe to assume that proposals for CO2 emission reductions will be enhanced in the future?
Hasegawa: As with dieting, it is not the end of the process to look at the calculation results; specific actions must be taken and continued. First of all, it is important to pursue the causes of hot spots with high CO2 emissions and large room for reduction. Once the causes are identified, reduction actions can be considered. In doing so, we believe it is possible to leverage the comprehensive strengths of Mitsui & Co. to propose various reduction measures and support business development.
--It is possible that in the future, components and parts with low CO2 emissions will be advertised and promoted on "LCA Plus".
Hasegawa: We have already received requests from customers who want to search for low-carbon materials and materials on this platform. In the future, we hope that companies will be matched through "LCA Plus" and that a variety of businesses will be activated through this process.

Full customer support system for peace of mind

--As for customer support, what kind of support do you provide?
Hasegawa provides three types of support for the Hasegawa platform: functional support, service center, and customer success. For functional support, we will implement functions that integrate with customers' existing systems and provide systemic support to ensure stress-free and easy use. The Service Center, in collaboration with SuMPO, will provide a call center function with a manned chat room to support the use of LCA Plus. Customer Success will provide support for companies that have signed up to reduce their CO2 emissions, mainly through face-to-face meetings.
In addition to providing tools, LCA Plus provides a support system to help customers achieve CO2 emissions reductions.
--Finally, is there anything you would like to achieve through "LCA Plus"?
Hasegawa: When calculating CO2 emissions, the most common problems faced by those in charge are that they do not know how to calculate, do not know how to collect data, and do not know whether the calculations are correct or not.
LCA Plus" enables simple and accurate calculation of CO2 emissions, and through this, specific reduction actions can be envisioned. We hope that the simplicity of LCA Plus will help you take the first step toward decarbonization.
--Thank you very much for your time today.

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