Our LCA Part 1: How not to greenwash

Bold claims need strong evidence.

At Naked Sprout we manufacture the UK’s most sustainable toilet rolls, and we’re not shy about it. We proudly state that our products produce the lowest emissions, that we have the most environmentally-friendly process, and that Naked Sprout is a simple switch that makes a meaningful difference.

When you make claims like this it’s natural to attract skepticism, because there is a lot of greenwashing out there. Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious and companies are playing on this in their marketing - showcasing the sustainability of one part of the process, while sweeping the polluting parts under the rug.

So we get questions like:

"What about the impact of transporting bamboo?"

"Doesn’t manufacturing in Spain cancel out the savings from manufacturing without fossil fuels?"

"Surely it can’t be sustainable to deliver your boxes by courier?"

There’s answers to these questions in our life cycle assessment.


What’s a life cycle assessment?

The record-breaking summers of the last few years have moved the predictions of climate scientists into everyday experience. Widespread use of fossil fuels is changing our climate, and we have to start doing things differently. So how can we measure and pursue meaningful change? 

A life cycle assessment (or LCA) is a critical part of the picture for organisations that want to know they’re on the right track. 

Put simply, an LCA is a document that lays out the processes and materials used by a company and calculates the climate changing gasses that are emitted as a result. The goal of an LCA is to make a final figure, the total impact or “climate footprint” associated with a company’s operations. This figure can be used to communicate with customers, make comparisons, and, critically, do better.

You won’t see LCAs front-and-centre on the websites of many tissue brands, but we know that many other companies have also made LCAs, particularly those companies who, unlike Naked Sprout, are attempting to “offset” their climate footprint. We also know other LCAs are lacking in detail. For example some brands that bleach their rolls have claimed that there is no difference in CO2e footprint between the bleached and unbleached versions of their products.

This simply cannot be the case - bleach doesn’t grow on trees. It takes energy to manufacture the chemical compound, to produce the containers that hold it, to transport it to a factory, and to apply it to pulp. When a company says there is no difference in the emissions produced by their unbleached and bleached products, they are saying that they do not consider emissions that take place outside of their factory to be their responsibility. 

We haven’t taken shortcuts like this; we want the figures to give a full reflection of our processes so that there are hard figures supporting our claims.  We believe the Naked Sprout LCA is the most detailed and extensive you will find of any tissue brand in the UK, if not the world.

What do we mean by “detailed and extensive?” Let’s have a chat about scope… 


What does our LCA cover? 

Our analysis meets the globally-recognised ISO 14067 standard as established by  the International Organisation for Standardisation, which provides "the principles, requirements, and guidelines" that businesses should use when calculating their greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis was carried out by independent environmental consultancy inèdit. Their team of environmental scientists, researchers, and manufacturing experts have conducted over 400 analysis for companies across Europe. For us, they have a huge extra strength in being based in the same area as our factory, which means their team can actually see our operations in person on the factory floor. You won’t see this level of access in the LCAs for other eco rolls manufactured in the UK, or those made in China, but it is important for us given the unique nature of the processes, many patented, that conserve energy and reduce waste at our factory. 

We asked their team to take the whole life of Naked Sprout products into account. Many companies calculate their figures from “Cradle-to-Gate”. This means that products are considered from the start of the manufacturing process up to the point where manufacturing is finished - the final number you see is the emissions it takes to turn raw materials into products, and products into boxes that are ready to leave the factory. 

We wanted to go further than this, because Naked Sprout products don’t just pile up at our factory! They come to our warehouse in the UK before being delivered to you at home.

So our assessment takes a “Cradle-to-Grave” approach, calculating emissions from the growing of the raw bamboo, or the kerbside collection of our recycled materials, all the way to the delivery of your box and the final disposal of your tissue products in the bin or down the loo. We know our LCA isn’t perfect, but we have taken care to make sure it’s as accurate, transparent, and all-encompassing as possible. 


Where do the numbers come from?  

Everything that should be reasonably included as part of the carbon cost of producing Naked Sprout (and more besides!) has been included in our LCA. The bamboo pulp, the lights in the factory, the power used by the forklifts that move the rolls, the glue that binds our sheets. 

How do we calculate the emissions for all of these things? 

There are two ways you can get emissions data, from studying the details of the actual processes employed, and from what is called a “factor.” 

Factors are used as a shorthand to make LCAs easier, so that calculations don’t always have to start from scratch. There are widely-used databases that include emissions for everything from transporting bananas to burning a gas stove for an hour. So if a company puts a cardboard core in every toilet roll they make, they don’t have to actually calculate the emissions involved in the manufacture and transport of the specific cores they are using, they can just use the factor for cardboard. 

Factors are useful, but an overreliance on factors can lead to misleading results. If a company knows that the dyeing process they use for their packaging, for example, is actually more energy intensive than the standard process would be, they can use the generic factor in their LCA, and get the lower number. 

We have seen LCAs from other companies that are entirely composed of factors, every single part of their emissions are calculated using a generic industry average, not taking any of the specifics of their manufacturing process into account.

This seems like a wasted opportunity. What’s the point of assessing the footprint of your product if you’re just going to count everything as a generic industry norm? Surely the point of making sustainable products is trying to do better than the industry norm. 

Here’s a simple example: the raw material that we use for our recycled rolls comes by truck from businesses near our factory. We could just use the generic factor “recycled cardboard” for this material, the factor includes emissions for the average journey most recycled material will travel before it reaches the factory where it’s used. 

But instead we have calculated our real number using the actual distances involved in bringing waste cardboard from kerbside collection to our factory. Going to this effort takes longer but it gives us a clear way to improve. We are working on a partnership with local supermarkets to use their cardboard boxes, which will reduce the road miles for our cardboard supply. When we do this, it will be included in our total emissions factors, allowing us to see and report on the benefit. 

We have used factors where there is currently no alternative, but wherever it is possible we have included our real numbers, so that our CO2e footprint reflects the true emissions of our products.


Here’s the headlines

So that’s the overview of our LCA; what it is, why we’ve done it, what we’ve included. 

If you’ve read this far you’re probably curious about the findings. How much of a difference does all of this really make? Can we really say that Naked Sprout is much more sustainable than alternatives? 

As we’ve said, there aren’t many brands out there that publicly publish their LCAs, so at the beginning of 2023 we asked Carbon Footprint Ltd. to produce a detailed report of the carbon footprint of recycled toilet rolls produced in the UK. They used published data around raw materials, distribution, and manufacturing to produce an estimation that was as accurate as possible, so that we could compare on a like for like basis.

Their calculation came to: 

1 kg of recycled toilet roll produced in the UK = 2.22 kg CO2e

How do we compare? These are our numbers: 

1 kg of Naked Sprout bamboo toilet roll = 0.72 kg CO2e
1 kg of Naked Sprout recycled toilet roll = 0.74 kg CO2e

The numbers speak for themselves. While other eco brands focus on the raw material they use to produce their products, we prioritise sustainability at every single stage of manufacture. It’s not the cheapest or the easiest way to produce toilet rolls, but when we see the difference it makes to our impact, we are so proud to be going that extra mile.


Want to learn more?

We'll be sharing more about our processes and industry-leading emissions in our next posts, as we dive into our life cycle assessment step-by-step. Part two, covering our raw materials, is up now.

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