Journal Article

Making sense of the minefield of footprint indicators


In recent years, footprint indicators have emerged as a popular mode of reporting environmental performance. The prospect is that these simplified metrics will guide investors, businesses, public sector policymakers and even consumers of everyday goods and services in making decisions which lead to better environmental outcomes. However, without a common “DNA”, the ever expanding lexicon of footprints lacks coherence and may even report contradictory results for the same subject matter.(1) The danger is that this will ultimately lead to policy confusion and general mistrust of all environmental disclosures. Footprints are especially interesting metrics because they seek to express the environmental performance of products and organizations from a life cycle perspective. The life cycle perspective is important to avoid misleading claims based only on a selected life cycle stage. For example, the water used to manufacture beverages may be important, but if a beverage includes sugar, irrigation water used to cultivate sugar cane could be a greater concern. The focus on environmental performance distinguishes footprints from technical efficiency measures, such as energy use efficiency or water use efficiency, which typically only make sense when applied to a single life cycle stage as they lack local environmental context. However, unlike technical efficiency, which can usually be accurately measured and verified, footprint indicators, with their wider view of environmental performance, are usually calculated using models which can differ in scope, complexity and model parameter settings. Despite the noble intention of using footprints to evaluate and report environmental performance, the potential inconsistency between different approaches acts as a deterrent to use in many public policymaking and business contexts and can lead to confusing and contradictory messages in the marketplace.

Attached files


Ridoutt, B
Fantke, P
Pfister, S
Bare, J
Boulay, A
Cherubini, F
Frischknecht, R
Hauschild, M
Hellweg, S
Henderson, A
Jolliet, O
Levasseur, A
Margni, M
McKone, T
Michelsen, O
Mila i Canals, L
Page, G
Pant, R
Raugei, Marco
Salla, S
Saouter, E
Verones, F
Weidmann, T

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment\Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences


Year of publication: 2015
Date of RADAR deposit: 2016-02-17

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This RADAR resource is the Accepted Manuscript of Making sense of the minefield of footprint indicators


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