MO.3.A || Sustainable Chemicals and Materials

Kätelhön, Arne; Meys, Raoul; Stellner, Laura; Bardow, André; Suh, Sangwon

Industrial companies generate a large part of their life-cycle environmental impacts indirectly through the production of raw materials, such as chemicals and plastics. As different suppliers use different production techniques for the same chemicals, the supply of the same chemical can have vastly different environmental impacts depending on the supplier. Therefore, the companies who buy chemicals can optimize their impacts associated with the purchased raw materials by choosing environmentally efficient suppliers. To inform these decisions, supplier-specific data is needed for product environmental impacts. This data is typically scarce. To enable environmental supply chain optimization, we have developed a new Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) database for chemicals and plastics. In contrast to existing LCI databases, our database uses plant-level data covering more than 18,000 production plants operated by about 3000 companies in 190 regions. We model each plant based on detailed technical data for the specific production technique used and information on the plant capacity and the plant-specific raw material supply chains. Furthermore, we model international trade based on physical, bilateral trade data for each chemical. Our database allows determining life-cycle environmental impacts of chemicals and plastics on a company- and even plant-specific level. The results from our database show that supplier-specific environmental impacts differ substantially from national averages for most products. Therefore, supplier-specific data can be crucial for improving the representativeness of environmental assessments both on the product and the company level. For 78 large-volume chemicals, we show that choosing the least emissions-intensive supplier can reduce the climate impact associated with the supply by 38% on average. Supplier-specific data is, therefore, a powerful tool for creating environmentally more sustainable supply chains.