How do we measure our handprint?

To show our stakeholders the impact of Outotec’s products and services on the environment, we need to accurately calculate the quantifiable positive and negative impacts, including impacts along the entire supply chain.

Wherever companies operate in the metal supply chain, it is becoming increasingly important – and often essential – to be aware of the environmental impacts of their upstream suppliers, and to provide similar reassurance about their own activities to customers downstream. To facilitate compliance with ever tougher legislation and to meet environmentally aware consumers’ needs, large companies, financiers and governments are increasingly demanding audit trails of entire supply chains, as well as verifiable figures that demonstrate a company’s environmental benefits.

When at Outotec we proudly say that our handprint is larger than our footprint, we mean that the positive impacts of our products and services on the environment are demonstrably greater than the negative impacts generated by our operations and our supply chain. This is a strong statement that must be backed up by verified data.

“We have worked for many years to calculate the impacts of our technologies in ways that can be assured by a third party,” explains Dr Ilkka Kojo, Director of Sustainability and Environment at Outotec. Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) can be useful tools, though even the best LCA databases are often based on industry averages. In the steel industry, Outotec’s technology is used only in one part of the process, whereas published figures for production and environmental impacts cover entire plants. In certain areas such as copper production, however, it is possible to get detailed, reliable and comparable information on environmental impacts from producers or research institutes.

“Industry data is also to a certain extent publicly available in producers’ sustainability reports, which helps us in data collection. However, for certain technologies the publicly available data tends to be massive, complex, and seldom comparable. For this reason we have been able to get reliable reference data only for seven Outotec technologies so far,” adds Kojo.

What makes goods and services green? 

Outotec’s benchmark is the definition of Environmental Goods and Services (EGS) made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This definition covers goods and services used to measure, prevent, limit, minimize or correct environmental damage to water, air and soil, as well as problems related to waste, noise and ecosystems. EGSs thus include cleaner technologies, products and services that reduce environmental risks, minimize pollution and curb resource use. Outotec has worked with the Finnish consultancy Insinööri- toimisto Ecobio to devise methodology for assessing our technologies against the EGS criteria.

Kojo explains that four key questions need to be answered when assessing a specific technology against these criteria: Does the technology reduce negative environmental impacts? Does the product reduce the need for resources or energy? Is the service or product clearly meant for an environmental purpose? Or does it provide a solution to an environmental protection problem?

Using this methodology Outotec’s technologies can be divided into three categories: those that are clearly EGS technologies; those that may qualify as EGS technologies depending on their application; and non-EGS technologies. These definitions can then be applied in-house to determine the proportion of new orders placed in any reporting year that qualify as EGSs. 

“Our classification of our sulfuric acid plants provides a good example of how we assess technologies. If a plant produces acid using by-products from a smelter, it is clearly an EGS technology as it is used for pollution management; but in the case of sulfur-burning based acid production, we define the plant as ‘maybe EGS’,” says Kojo.

“Orders cannot be classified as EGS orders if the technologies do not include the latest favorable acid production technologies. Such technologies include Outotec’s improved HEROS heat recovery systems, and our LUREC technology, which allows the treatment of gas containing higher levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and enables better SO2 recovery rates than conventional technology.”

Environmental goods and services in Outotec's order intake

The calculations revealed that 90% of Outotec’s order intake in 2019 qualified as EGS. “It must be emphasized that this whole approach requires self-assessment, and that there are no formal procedures in place for OECD EGS evaluations by independent institutions – or for EGS labeling,” says Kojo.

Calculating our handprint

“To verify our handprint in practical terms, we also calculate the emissions avoided through the use of Outotec technologies, and the ecological footprint of our own operations and supply chain,” adds Kojo. “We have calculated the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of seven significant Outotec technologies, combined this information with production data, and then compared it with emissions from other corresponding technologies on the market.”

Based on these calculations, the CCO2 emissions avoided through the use of the six Outotec technologies during 2019 amounted to 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2-e) emissions avoided. This figure and the calculation method have been assured by a third-party auditor. 

Calculating the environmental footprint of our own operations and supply chain

When it comes to calculating our carbon footprint, it is important to look at the entire supply chain. Using supply chain emission factors defined by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs together with figures for Outotec’s spending, we were able to calculate that the footprint of our supply chain amounted to 574,730 tonnes of CO2-e in 2019. The carbon footprint of Outotec’s own operations is relatively small in comparison, amounting to 22,458 tonnes. Comparing all these figures reveals that our handprint is much greater than our footprint. Such tangible evidence of favorable environmental performance can give us a vital competitive edge, and benefit all of our stakeholders.