A year ago at the beginning of June 2021, I started writing regular posts and articles for the new Lubes’n’Greases Sustainability InSite platform. My goal was to share hot takes from the world of sustainability as they intersect with the lubricants industry and its environmental impact.
Looking back, it is simultaneously incredible, intriguing and inspiring thinking about all that has happened in just one year, and going beyond sustainability, too.
In that time, I have written 38 blog posts and six articles – this one is the seventh. I was curious going back to when I started to review them. It gave me an opportunity to summarize the most important issues and developments circled around sustainability. They have, and will continue to have, an impact on the global lubricants industry now and in the future.
Without hesitation, lube manufacturers should measure their ecological footprint along the process and value chain. This vital task can be done by answering the following three key questions about raw materials, lube production and finished products:
1. How sustainable are my suppliers and their supplies?
2. How sustainable is my lube production
3. How sustainable are my lube products?
Then the company should take the five steps below to actually measure and calculate its corporate carbon footprints:
1. Define the system boundaries
2. Capture consumption data of all business activities
3. Convert collected consumption values into CO2 equivalents using emission factors
4. Determine partial results for Scope 1, 2 and, if applicable, 3
5. Calculate total value of carbon footprint. For lube manufacturers in particular, this means looking at CO2 emissions from their own lubricant operations (known as “gate-to-gate”) at the company’s locations worldwide, but also collecting data from their raw material suppliers
The feedprint – as I like calling it – follows lubricants from cradle to gate and requires companies to be mindful of the sustainability characteristics of their raw materials. The question for a lube manufacturer at the end of the process and value chain is, where do I buy the raw material from?
The fingerprint – commonly called the handprint – follows a lubricant from the cradle to the grave. It refers to the positive effects on the customer’s application, i.e., the CO2 savings that a lubricant generates in the user’s operations. This can be calculated.
If it is a specialized lubricant, it saves more CO2 in customer applications thanks to greater reduced friction and the ability to protect against wear and corrosion compared with a conventional alternative, such as a standard-type lubricant.
Scope 4 describes those emissions that can be avoided through the use of a particular or alternative product or service. Companies – especially lubricant companies – can play a key role in developing and promoting products and services that avoid emissions.
With a firm understanding of Scope 4, they can develop emissions scenarios that clearly outline the potential outcomes of developing a more sustainable product. While it is a challenge to quantify avoided emissions, an organization should still embed them in its reporting in order to create a holistic view of its greenhouse gas inventory.
Lubricant companies also need to achieve carbon neutrality using the strategic triad of the “3 C’s“, namely calculate, cut down and compensate. This means offsetting unavoidable and not-yet avoided CO2 emissions currently and in the future, as well as going retroactively back to the company’s origins.
The Science Based Targets Initiative launched the world’s first net-zero corporate standard. This may be applicable to lubricant manufacturers who want to reduce their own emissions according to 5- or 10-year plan, in order to become net-zero.However, this approach can only be an add-on. It is imperative to become climate neutral at once, as time is running out.
Lubricant companies should focus on the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, especially those four that they pay-into and support most or consider are most relevant to their business:
9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
12 – Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
13 – Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
17 – Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
The German Supply Chain Act became law in 2023 and applies to companies with 3,000 or more employees. From 2024, it will apply to companies with 1,000 or more employees with a registered office or branch in Germany. The law obliges them to fulfil their due diligence obligations in their supply chains with regard to respecting internationally recognized human rights and certain environmental standards.
Many environmental non-governmental organizations propose extending the scope of the law to all companies with 250 employees and more or with a total balance sheet of €20 million. In that case, it would also affect many lubricant companies in Germany. But they need to prepare adequately now, if not yet having done so already.
The “3 C’s” will not be enough. We need to get rid of CO2 that has already been emitted. We need to add a fourth “C” to the equation, namely “capture”. An example of carbon capture was a project specific to the lubricants called the CO2 Lubricants Project, which was aimed at converting CO2 into lubricants.
Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research and five other partners carried out the project from 2016 to 2019. CO2 was captured from industrial emissions or from the atmosphere and converted into lubricants using chemical and biotechnological processes.
We need to do much more of all measures above by the next “blogiversary.”
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