Standardizing Sustainability Efforts


Standardizing Sustainability Efforts
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Increasing the sustainability of their operations as well as their end products is a top concern for many companies operating in the lubricants industry right now. This is a necessary and noble endeavor—albeit a lofty one—that might leave many companies wondering where to even start. 

Fortunately, the American Petroleum Institute has taken some of the guesswork out of the task. The standard-setting organization recognized the need for an industry-specific and consensus-based methodology for calculating the carbon footprints of lubricants and specialty products and thus developed API Technical Report (TR) 1533, Lubricants Life Cycle Assessment and Carbon Footprinting – Methodology and Best Practice. 

The technical report was published on May 4, 2023, and is available to all free of charge on API’s website (  

In a press release announcing the publication of the document, API said that the purpose of API TR 1533 “is to promote harmonization and consistency in the application of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Carbon Footprints of Products (CFP) across the lubricants industry. This publication will help to enhance customer confidence with product benefit claims related to sustainability.”

According to API, LCAs and CFPs are “established methodologies used to quantify the environmental performance of products, processes or services, and are increasingly being used as a basis for environmental decision-making along the supply chain.” 

While LCA involves multiple “impact categories,” CFP focuses on the specific impact category of climate change, which envelops both emissions and removal of greenhouse gases. 

To get a better understanding of how API TR 1533 was created as well as its implications for the lubricants industry as a whole, Lubes’n’Greases spoke with Jeffrey Harmening, API senior program manager, Engine Oil Licensing & Certification System (EOLCS).

Lubes’n’Greases: Why and how was API TR 1533 developed? Who contributed to its development?

Harmening: Ultimately, API member companies came forward to API because this was an issue that was unstandardized. At the outset, our member companies were dealing with these types of questions that they get from their customers. One of the concerns from the industry at large is if we don’t have a standard or a guideline that someone can follow, then it will become the Wild West and there will be no real ability to compare Company A’s reported sustainability claims to Company B’s sustainability claims. 

API established a work group in June of 2021 with the charge of gathering subject matter experts from all contributors to the lubricant value chain, and the assembled “SME task force” began their efforts later that fall.  The group includes expertise not only from the marketers but also the base oil and additive technology companies who shared in this effort.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the SMEs involved and a rigorous meeting cadence, the group was able prepare a draft for ballot in about 13 months.

Lubes’n’Greases: Do you anticipate that companies of different sizes will utilize API TR 1533 in different ways?

Harmening: I would suspect that the large, integrated companies that have the resources at hand and have likely been dealing with this for a long time may have many of these practices already in place. Remember, these are the folks that wrote the document. Whereas, as you get to the smaller companies, they have far fewer resources to dedicate to this. I would suspect that smaller companies don’t have a dedicated sustainability person, so they’re looking for all the help they can get as they answer the same questions from their customers that the larger lube companies do. 

So I do think while the practices within TR 1533 are wholly voluntary, a larger company is probably more familiar with what’s in the document already versus a smaller independent lube marketer. In that sense, this is written for all of them. 

Lubes’n’Greases: It has been said that API TR 1533 will help to enhance product benefit claims. How will it do this? Are there instances in which this is already happening?

Harmening: The intent behind the API Technical Report 1533 publication is to share the depth and breadth of knowledge among API member resources and to outline common practices and definitions around lubricant-specific carbon footprinting and life cycle analysis. There are many lube marketers out there, whether independent or otherwise, who are being asked by existing and potential customers alike to provide product carbon footprints, but who are not necessarily equipped to jump right in. API TR 1533 seeks to aid these folks with “getting started on their sustainability journey” and help them consider the impacts of their lube production and distribution processes.  Once their processes are assessed and understood, companies may by extension continue to improve their carbon-related output from stage to stage to realize their own sustainability potential.  

As I have learned through supporting the subject matter experts throughout the TR 1533 development process, there are certainly instances in which this is already happening.  It is the culmination of much effort already expended among the API member companies in their own day-to-day operations, and that has served as the foundation for this consensus-based document.

Lubes’n’Greases: What are the stages of the lubricant life cycle as defined by API TR 1533? Can you explain what each stage entails? 

Harmening: The API technical report begins by defining the six stages of the lubricant life cycle: raw materials, production, packaging, logistics, loss-in-use and end-of-life.  The first three stages (raw materials through packaging) may also be referred to as the Cradle-to-Production Gate, while the first four stages (raw materials through logistics) are more commonly referred to as the Cradle-to-Customer Gate.  Collectively, the scope of a Product Carbon Footprint will be defined by the practitioner at one of these two gates, depending on individual assessment goals.

Raw materials make up an important contribution to the LCA and CFP of the product and have been subdivided into two main groups: base oils and rerefined base oils (API Groups I–V), and additives.  Depending on the list of ingredients of a finished lube, this section outlines the types of data needed for each constituent.  An accurate accounting in this stage will require collaboration with the suppliers of the individual components.

The production stage outlines the data collection requirements for all production processes and considers the emissions output due to consumption of thermal energy and imported electricity and steam, fuel consumption in on-site operations, waste lubricants and more.  The packaging stage considers energy consumption data regarding the raw material type and nature, the manufacturing process for the packaging and labels, and the transport of these materials to the blend plant, among other considerations.  At the logistics stage, the emissions associated with getting the product to the customer are considered.  Although important to consider as an area for improvement, the contribution from logistics to the overall CFP tends to be smaller, with exceptions for special circumstances of intercontinental import or air freight transport.

But the document also considers the In-Use phase and the End-of-Life phases, which, when taken with the previous four stages, represent the full Life Cycle Analysis of the product.  In-use emissions refer to the emissions of, including but not limited to, losses due to combustion, volatility or leakage, and this stage begins when the end user takes possession of the lubricant. It is this stage of the lubricant life cycle in which the benefits of avoided emissions through fuel economy or extended drain intervals may be considered when determining the full LCA of a product.

Finally, the end-of-life stage looks at all the emissions related to the waste fates of a lubricant that has reached the end of its useful life.  The most common waste fates are used oil recycling, combustion (with or without heat recovery) and landfill disposal.  This stage also considers the waste fate of the packaging in a similar vein.  

Lubes’n’Greases: The press release announcing the publication of TR 1533 stated that the “document will also help to move toward harmonized practices and to reduce individual requirements across global markets.” How has API crafted TR 1533 to take into account the global nature of the lubricants industry?

Harmening: It’s an overall objective for us to ensure that what we put down in our document syncs up with other sustainability publications from around the globe, so we don’t have duplicative or incongruent requirements from, say, the North American marketplace to the European marketplace to the Asian marketplace. We want to give our oil companies the best chance to satisfy all the local regulations or practices with minimal overlap and undue need to extend resources. 

We’re happy to have international liaison groups on this topic. We’ve got a really good working relationship with folks around the world who are dealing with this topic and putting things down on paper.

Lubes’n’Greases: It seems as if API TR 1533 is a living document. How might it evolve in the future to even better serve the lubricants industry?

Harmening: This is a voluntary publication, and it is up to the individual companies if or how they wish to incorporate this into their company practices, but we think there’s a lot of value in the publication, and we’re hopeful it will gain wide industry acceptance.  

That said, this will be a living document.  Many compelling suggestions for improvement, added clarity and additional harmonization with other global methodologies were received during the ballot and public review processes, and these will be considered for the next iteration of TR 1533.  The methodologies and practices regarding lubricant sustainability are in a near-constant state of scientific improvement as the lubricants industry continues to address the needs of its customers.  The SMEs will continue to convene to advance the concepts that this technical report describes with the goal of full recommended practice in mind.  

Sydney Moore is managing editor of Lubes’n’Greases magazine. Contact her at


Related Topics

Regulations Specs & Testing    Sustainability