Laboratory for Carbon Footprinting-Green Design Institute - Carnegie Mellon University

Laboratory for Carbon Footprinting

We have been studying and modeling the impacts of products and processes on the environment for nearly two decades.  Broadly considering an entity's effect on the environment requires a holistic look at many factors, but issues associated with climate change have focused many groups on greenhouse gas emissions, specifically on carbon dioxide emissions.  This assessment is often called "carbon footprinting".  

We have worked on carbon footprint projects with for-profit and not-for-profit entities, including hospitals, campuses, and cities.  We have worked with the following partners in our work over time (many through membership in the GDI consortium): SAP, Alcatel-Lucent, FedEx, UPMC, AT&T, Consol Energy, IBM, buy.com, Microsoft, Intel, Planet Metrics, World Resources Institute / World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  Through cooperative projects we can help set up and/or perform studies, help peer review them, and interpret results to inform decisions on how best to reduce impacts.  Please contact us if interested in collaborating.

From Inventories to Action Plans

While our primary research approach over time has been in developing and applying methods of life cycle assessment (such as EIO-LCA), we have begun to leverage our long-standing expertise in the area to engage with standards organizations and companies to better understand how our research can inform better designs of footprinting guidelines for companies, cities, etc.  While many entities have made commitments to reduce their carbon footprint (or become "carbon neutral") our work has reinforced how difficult (or impossible) such goals will be.

Our goal in the emerging field of carbon footprinting is to use our expertise to assist entities in recognizing:

  • How a narrow focus on carbon can lead to sub-optimal decisions
  • How large their footprint is in reality given a holistic view of their activities (e.g., comparing Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions)
  • How their carbon emissions are difficult to validate 
  • How to identify large emissions sources in complex global supply chains, to help pinpoint where mitigation efforts can have the most effect
  • How uncertainty or variability in emissions data makes it difficult to calculate a single "number" for a footprint, and to make decisions

These fundamental concerns have formed the basis of our research.  Below are capsule summaries and links to the most prominent reports showing our work.

Finally, while the popular discussion is currently around the topic of carbon, we have been working in various broader metrics for a decade.  We published a well-known study on life cycle water use and have begun other work in the area of water footprinting.