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What is the carbon footprint of your material handling automation?

In this article, we describe our learning path when we started analysing the environmental impacts of Konecranes Agilon® warehouse automation.

The initial thinking was that we should concentrate on energy consumption which we knew was very modest compared to industry standards. Additionally, the well thought method of implementing maintenance and repair operations using refurbished modules was considered a unique advantage from the circular economy point of view.

However, following our initial meeting with the experts, it turned out that the project was going to be much longer than expected. As of today, though we still don’t have the results, at least we know where to start and what the overall project will look like. 

Sustainability - Life cycle matters


Sustainability is one of the key drivers of product development today. Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations as development that fulfils the current needs without compromising the needs of future generations. In this context, sustainability covers economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a powerful method to target specifically environmental protection. It is a standardized and science-based method for assessing the environmental impacts of a product or a service throughout its life cycle. 

For example, it might be possible that the LCA study indicates the biggest impact to be caused by raw materials during the lifetime of a product or a service. Based on the results of the study, the company can start to seek better alternative raw materials. After they have found one, they can proceed to do the LCA again to see if the alternative is actually better for the environment. This helps to avoid sub-optimization, which could lead to even bigger environmental impacts than the original solution. Furthermore, some material choices that might be environmentally friendly in manufacturing might not last as long in operation, which can lead to an increasing need for maintenance and eventually lead to additional environmental impacts. Therefore, the solutions need to be reviewed throughout their life cycle.


LCA is a standardized method for assessing the environmental performance of a product or a service, which consists of four phases:

1.    The goal and scope definition
2.    Life cycle inventory analysis (LCI)
3.    Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) 
4.    Life cycle interpretation. 

The standards that set the framework for conducting an LCA are ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. In addition to these, there is also the ISO 14067 standard, which is derived from the methodology but focuses on the carbon footprint aspect. The difference between an LCA and a carbon footprint study is that an LCA usually also takes other environmental impacts into account in addition to global warming potential. For example, acidification, eutrophication, and ozone depletion are typical impact categories that the study might also consider. 

The goal and scope definition

The LCA process begins with the definition of the goal and scope. The ISO 14040 standard defines what needs to be disclosed in the study, which is presented in the table below. The purpose of this is to disclose as closely as possible all the factors that are relevant to the study. This gives the reader the background of the study as well as the viewpoint from which the study is to be analysed. 


Compulsory topic to be defined
How to define
Example of the definition
The goal

Intended application.

Which application are the results to be used for?

Decreasing the environmental impacts of manufacturing and usage at Konecranes Agilon.

Reasons for carrying out the study.

Why is the study being carried out?

Finding the most impactful components or modules that need to be developed.

Intended audience.

Who is going to be using the results?

R&D team and mechanical designers, management.

Are the results going to be used in public comparative assertations?

The scope


What is the studied product and what does it include?

Konecranes Agilon.

The functions of the product system.

What is the function of the product?

Storing and retrieving materials one package at a time with robotic automation.

Functional unit.

Per what unit, are all the impacts calculated?

Average usage over one year.

The system boundary.

Which activities are included in the study?

Supply of materials, production of Konecranes Agilon, delivery, installation, operation, maintenance, disposal.

Allocation procedure.

Are there allocations made and how they are made?

Cut off allocation for materials.

LCIA method and the chosen impact categories.

What is the used LCIA method and which impact categories are included?

ReCiPe method – global warming, eutrophication, acidification, ozone depletion.

Data requirements.

What data is required to carry out the study?

Amounts of materials, transportation distances, production processes, maintenance, operations, and disposal methods.


What assumptions are made for the study?

Konecranes Agilon system works as expected for the life time, materials recycled and certain components reused.


Are there limitations in the study? What are they?

It is hard to get specific data from some of the used sourced components. Generic data must be used especially for some electrical components.

Initial data quality requirements.

What are the requirements for data quality?

Geographical representativeness, data is no more than five years old at the time of study.

Type of critical review.

Are the results reviewed by an external party?

3rd party verification.

Type and format of the report.

How are the results reported?

Internal process documentation and presentation


Inventory Analysis

The second phase of the LCA is the Life Cycle Inventory Analysis (LCI). In the LCI, the product is put through its life cycle and the relevant unit processes are gathered. For each unit process, all input and output, also known as elementary flows, are collected. The elementary flows usually include energy, raw materials, other relevant inputs, and emissions, waste,  and other outputs, which will be used to define the life cycle impacts in the next phase. 

In the beginning, the experts warned us that this task would neither be easy nor quick.

We started this phase by acquiring detailed data from the Bill of Materials (BOM). In the beginning, the experts warned us that this task would neither be easy nor quick. One major reason is that long supply chains make it hard to get exact information from the mines through manufacturing to disposal. Even getting a full list of materials is sometimes almost impossible. Fortunately, Konecranes Agilon is fully designed by internal R&D, so getting the BOM data was relatively easy. 

Agilon is constructed modularly from a few main modules which are listed in the table below. In terms of equipment weight, the vast majority is steel and aluminium. Just three subcomponents constitute 93% of an average Agilon racking: uprights, shelves and cover panels. 




No. of vendors




Access Point






Electric Sets


Multiple, varying


For each of the subcomponents, certain parameters were required to study in detail:

•    Material
•    Separate surface treatment
•    Manufacturing method
•    Weight / Pcs [kg]
•    Vendor
•    Transport method from vendor
•    Transport distance from vendor [km]
•    Raw material Vendor
•    Raw material manufacturing method


Some of the subcomponents consist of hundreds or thousands of different parts. Examples of such are computers, barcode scanners or cameras which are supplied by selected vendors. Obtaining information from the vendors related to the electrical equipment turned out to be the most challenging task. Fortunately, the best manufacturers already have made their life cycle analyses which we can use in our calculations. However, this is not the case for all manufacturers, which will have an impact on vendor selection in the future. So, for some subcomponents, we need to resort to the average figures from the data bank. This should have only a minor impact on the reliability of the analysis as there are only so many ways to manufacture copper cables or electric motors.

The inventory analysis took about three months to complete which, we heard, was very quick. The next phase of our analysis will cover matters such as transport to customer, installation, maintenance, and repair. In addition, energy consumption from customer usage will be under thorough analysis, which should take significantly less time than the BOM analysis. 

Impact Assessment 

The LCI phase is followed by a Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA). In this phase, the previously acquired elementary flows are categorized under previously selected impact categories. Each impact category has its unit, for example, emissions with a global warming potential are usually categorized under kgCO2eq. Since different LCIA methods have different characterization factors for emissions, it is crucial to disclose which LCIA method is applied. There are several commonly used methodologies such as CML2001, ReCiPe and IPCC; and the LCIA results of using different methods should not be compared directly. 

Characterization is done with factors that scale the impacts to the given unit. As an example, the ReCiPe method’s characterization factors for some emissions for GWP 100 years are shown in the table below. Overall, this method recognizes over 200 different emissions with a global warming potential. For example, each kilogram of methane has the same impact as 34 kilograms of carbon dioxide on a 100-year time scale. This similar characterization is carried out for each of the emissions in each of the impact categories.




Carbon dioxide CO2


Methane CH4


Nitrous oxide N2O



The presented ReCiPe method has 18 midpoint indicators such as GWP, terrestrial acidification, freshwater eutrophication and water use. Through the damage pathways, these can be further grouped into endpoint indicators, three of which belong to ReCiPe: Damage to human health, Damage to ecosystem, and Damage to resource availability. Usually, however, the practitioners use the midpoint indicators. 


The fourth phase of an LCA study is the interpretation in which the findings from the LCI and LCIA phases are considered together to deliver results that are consistent with a set goal and scope. This frames the discussion as well as the limitations of the study to provide a conclusion and a potential recommendation. This section aims to present the result using simple and easy to understand language. For example, the so-called hot spots or key issues might be discovered here. Overall, the LCA process is an iterative process and, in this phase, the practitioner might discover something that requires revisiting in the LCI phase or the goal and scope definition. Once the study has been finished, the results are ready to be presented to the selected audience in the chosen format.

The application of the LCA methodology is increasing rapidly since it provides a comprehensive analysis of the whole supply chain aligning with increasing public awareness on the topic. Customers are requesting more sustainable solutions, which steers the producers to be more sustainable. As producers are looking for better solutions, it influences their suppliers as well, which trickles all the way to the beginning of the supply chain. Through this chain reaction, the world will become more sustainable, step by step, and the LCA is at the core of the transition for the whole product life cycle to become more sustainable. 

Sustainability cornerstones
Konecranes is committed to sustainability in all its operations, of which Agilon is a part. The group’s commitments are published here

When looking for alternatives for automated material handling technology, challenge your current knowledge. Make sure to check the latest in the market:


Written by

Vesa Hämetvaara

Director, Business Development, Konecranes Agilon

email: [email protected]


Jere Peltomäki

Sustainability Trainee, Tech core Sustainability and Analytics, Konecranes


Paige Nguyen 

Environmental Specialist, Tech core Sustainability and Analytics, Konecranes

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