More Work Needed on Sustainability Standards

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More Work Needed on Sustainability Standards
View of emissions from cars' exhaust pipes in highway traffic in New York City. © Andriy Blokhin / shutterstock.com

MINNEAPOLIS – Trade associations in the lubricants industry have taken significant steps the past few years developing standards to help quantify the sustainability of products that companies sell, speakers at a tribology conference here said this week, but more work remains to make a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Individuals involved with initiatives in North America and Europe agreed that standards in different regions should be harmonized and that emissions calculations should include what happens after a lubricant is used.

During a forum on sustainability here at the annual meeting of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, Dennis Bachelder of the American Petroleum Institute, discussed API TR 1533, a standard that the group published a year ago for calculating carbon footprints of lubricants and related specialty products.

As he explained, the standard had several purposes: to provide lubricant companies with a method for calculating the amount of CO2 generated in the production, sale and use of finished lubes; to provide a single recognized method so that footprints of different products may be compared; and to bolster customer and end-user confidence in the sustainability claims of lube marketers.

“This lubricant-focused methodology will not only provide guidance for the lubricant producers but also give their customers additional confidence in the data they receive,” said Bachelder, a senior engineer for API’s Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System.

A number of other industry groups have taken up similar work, including STLE in North America, Germany’s Lubricant Industry Association (VSI), the United Kingdom Lubricant Association, the Union of the European Lubricant Industry (UEIL), the Asia Lubricant Industry Association and the Australian Lubricant Association. Another speaker on the panel, Ergon’s Inga Herrmann, has participated in the VSI initiative and is now co-shepherd of a Carbon Footprint Working Group of a joint Sustainability Committee formed by UEIL and ATIEL, the Technical Association of the European Lubricants Industry, to develop a methodology for calculating carbon footprints of lubricant products.

Herrmann placed that effort in the context of the European Union’s Green Deal, which aims to lead the world toward the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. She noted that governments in several regions are moving toward mandates that businesses at least calculate CO2 emissions and that some are writing generic methodologies for how to do that. By next year the EU will require 50,000 companies to report carbon footprints and other sustainability information estimated using its European Sustainability Reporting Standards.

But those generic standards cover everything from chewing gum to tires, she said, and therefore are too incomplete and unspecific to allow meaningful, comparable estimates. The UEIL-ATIEL methodology is better for lubricant companies because it is more complete and specifically suited for their operations. It also provides more guidance than the EU standard, which can be helpful for small and medium-sized businesses.

The UEIL-ATIEL methodology provides cradle-to-gate calculations, meaning it estimates emissions generated in the production and procurement of raw materials plus the manufacturing of a lubricant. API’s is cradle-to-grave, meaning it also accounts for emissions generated in a product’s use and disposal. Herrmann and Bachelder both agreed that more complete estimates are preferred.

Bachelder said API is working on a second version of TR 1533 intended to make several improvements, including providing more detail for estimating footprints of different base oils; providing more detail about wastewater generated by lubricant manufacturers and materials disposed of at landfills; providing guidance about accounting for avoided emissions. The organization aims to publish that version within 18 months, he said.

API, UEIL and other groups mentioned above are working harmonize their standards so that requirements and practices in different regions are consistent.

“We are convinced that it is in the best interest of the industry that we do not compete on

methodologies but rather accept that different sectors might need slightly different approaches,” she said. “Harmonization and endorsement are key.”

Bachelder agreed and said he believes harmonization is generally attainable but that organizations could encounter hurdles sharing some information gathered from businesses in their respective regions.