Measuring embedded carbon in retail display design

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As we wrote in our last article, the case for carbon reduction in retail display is very clear.

Published in November 2020 with support and funding from retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Lidl, Aldi and Ikea, the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Climate Action Roadmap sets the goal for UK retail: net zero emissions by 2040.

It’s a goal that is based around commercial concerns as much as ethical issues.

With sustainability and climate featuring increasingly in consumer spending decisions, controlling carbon emissions sit front and centre.

So with a commitment to action, where do we start?


Finding the carbon

The first step to reducing carbon is understanding where your emissions are currently.

For most retailers, two types of carbon emission need to factor into this:

  • The carbon footprint generated directed by operating retail spaces, and
  • The embedded carbon generated by other factors such as design and manufacture of displays.

‘Operational carbon’ deals with the emissions created by heating, cooling and powering the retail space, so is relatively simple to monitor. Here, reductions can be achieved through a combination of operational efficiency and renewable energy supply.

‘Embedded carbon’, on the other hand, is a more complex issue.

In retail displays, the embedded carbon present in display hardware and materials comprises the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by the extraction, manufacture, transportation, assembly, maintenance, deconstruction and disposal of the materials used in the design.

This article is concerned with measurement of embedded carbon in retail display designs, and its importance as a first step in the process towards carbon neutrality.




Embedding the carbon measurement mindset

Retailers and brands committed to reducing their embedded carbon footprint need first to find ways to measure the current levels of embedded carbon in their retail displays.

This requires a pan-organisational commitment to sustainable thinking and, within that, a carbon measurement mindset.

Measurement of embedded carbon must extend across the business and through the entire retail display solution life cycle, from the earliest stages of concept and design, through to the end-of-life stage when display equipment and materials are replaced and recycled in an eco-friendly way.

Once embedded carbon within retail display design can be measured, it provides a platform for carbon footprint reduction for the business as a whole, leading to display design and materials selection based around their contribution to carbon emission reductions.

Retailers and brands can specify to display designers that measurement of embedded carbon should be factored into the design process from the earliest conceptual stages through to end of life re-purposing or dis-assembly.


The LIST embedded CO2 measurement methodology

At Displayplan we use the online LIST (Low Impact Shopfitting Tool) to measure the embedded CO2 in our retail display designs as part of our sustainable thinking approach.

LIST allows us to measure the sustainability of our design solutions and to show progressive improvement across a range retail display design metrics including materials, parts and transportation.

It also demonstrates to our clients that we are committed to helping them meet their sustainability goals, through our design for disassembly principles, use of recyclable materials and elimination of single-use plastics.

LIST was developed by leading experts including Displayplan to “enable retailers, designers and manufacturers to evaluate and compare the environmental impacts of interior fit-out designs.”


How the LIST measurement tool works

When creating designs for retail display, LIST users submit details for key aspects of the design including materials, parts and transportation for comparison against a database created in conjunction with industry and trade associations.

The use of established and well-respected EU and UK datasets ensures accuracy of the information on which any evaluation is based. Each aspect of the design entered into LIST is evaluated on the basis of the following impact categories:

  • Climate Change
  • Water Extraction
  • Mineral Resource Extraction
  • Stratospheric Ozone Depletion
  • Human Toxicity
  • Ecotoxicity to Freshwater and Land
  • Nuclear Waste
  • Waste Disposal
  • Fossil Fuel Depletion
  • Eutrophication
  • Photochemical Ozone Creation

The environmental impact methodology of the BRE Group – the organisation behind the creation of LIST – produces not only a measure of the embodied carbon present in a design but also an Ecopoints score which presents the impact across all 13 of the categories as a simple and actionable metric.

The system allows designers and other users to compare several options under consideration at the same time, in order to select the most sustainable aspects to reach the best solution. The results can then be taken by retailers and applied directly to their sustainability targets.

While the embedded carbon value of a display is given in the standard form of KgCO2eq, the addition of Ecopoints adds further visibility, enabling users to make choices on the basis of top to bottom, cradle to cradle sustainability.


LIST output example wide LIST compare images


Results and their application into sustainable display design

The LIST tool can be used by any designer or retailer, even those in the earliest stages of the journey toward sustainability to evaluate retail design solutions and identify those which are most fit for purpose.

The results provided by the tool provide a vital benchmark against which progress towards sustainability, in the form of future reductions in embedded CO2 can be measured.

This objective measure of sustainability can be used as a guide by any designer, retailer or brand to factor design for disassembly, use of sustainable materials and sustainable lifecycle thinking into their carbon-neutrality targets.

In our next article, we will look at activities to reduce the use of embedded CO2 using the LIST tool, as part of our drive to becoming a truly zero carbon business.


Next steps

Displayplan is a leading provider of retail display solutions that deliver great brand experiences, grow retail engagement and increase sales. We are committed to a sustainable approach in everything we do.

We won the POPAI 2016 sustainability award through the application of our lifecycle thinking in evolving and reducing embedded CO2 and design for disassembly principles in our displays.

With 35 years in the display business, we combine retail display design excellence with physical and digital in-store media for the world’s most prominent brands and retailers.

Call us to discuss your retail display requirements and request a call with one of our consultants.

Posted 19-03-21