Accelerating the reduction of the environmental impact of humanitarian action
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Accelerating the reduction of the environmental impact of humanitarian action

Performing life cycle analysis of high-impact items to build an GHG emission factor and environmental impact database adapted to the humanitarian sector and identify key strategies to reduce environmental impacts.

Sep 2023 – Feb 2025

Problem Statement

The ICRC has set a target to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030, compared to a 2018 baseline. The organization, along with 370 others in the global humanitarian aid sector, has committed to reaching a high level of environmental sustainability in their operations, abiding by the principle of « do no harm », by adopting the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations (1).

The ICRC’s GHG inventory of recent years (2) has displayed a 55% share of impact coming from their supply chain, and their internal operations (those not covering humanitarian interventions) were found to have a comparatively smaller share in their total GHG inventory.

There is also a lack of data-based impact analysis adapted to the context of aid organizations – up to 50% of emission factors used in greenhouse gas (GHG) calculations are not suited to the aid sector and notably do not integrate field data (3).

There is a gap in data that makes it difficult for humanitarian organizations to identify the sources of the environmental impact in their activities and value chains. Such information is however key to formulate impact reduction strategies for the sector, and to put in place systems to monitor their effectiveness. Without context-specific, low uncertainty data, it will be challenging for humanitarian organizations to meet their GHG emission reduction targets and other environmental goals.

Project Plan

This project aims to solve the aforementioned problems by answering the following key questions:

  1. What are priority items for the ICRC in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts, e.g. biodiversity?
  2. On which of these items does the ICRC lack reliable sector-relevant data or have large uncertainties?
  3. What are the best estimates and range (uncertainties) for these impacts based on life cycle assessments?
  4. What are the emission factors of the priority items?
  5. What are the key parameters and actions that should be considered in order to reduce the impact of its supply chain?
  6. How can this knowledge be applied to standardize the process for the humanitarian sector in general?


The outcome of this project will be a comprehensive emission reduction action plan, consisting of:

  • A streamlined LCA methodology, simplified and adapted to humanitarian contexts covering impacts in terms of GHG emissions and other environmental impacts such as biodiversity.
  • Life cycle assessments and subsequent establishment of emission factors and other environmental impacts for at least 3-6 key humanitarian items, identified through sector engagement.
  • Implementation strategies for the selected items with analysis on the potential reduction through optimisation of the product value chain or substitution of products.
  • An open-source database of emission factors, which will integrate emission factors from existing databases (HCC, ADEME, DEFRA…) that are the most suitable for humanitarian contexts, as well as the newly identified ones, for purposes of creating standards across the sector.
  • Training material on the LCA streamlined methodology and environmental data formulation.

Sector Engagement

The project will involve outreach and engagement with humanitarian actors to keep our outcomes amenable to the industry as a whole.

In the first two months, a series of outreach events will inform key stakeholders and ensure their suggestions and expectations are included. A comprehensive sector-wide engagement will be maintained throughout the project planning phase to be able to identify the items (for the LCA cases) that are most relevant for humanitarian organizations and that lack comprehensive data or actionable strategy.

During the construction of the LCA methodology, specific sector experts will be asked to provide inputs and organizations convened to validate the process and data.

Humanitarian organizations are invited to contribute to the project by providing their impact analysis methodologies, LCA results and/or emission factors. They will be regularly informed about the progress, outcomes and next steps throughout the project.


The project is a first step towards developing emission and environmental impact factors adapted to the humanitarian sector and providing scientific information on the most effective decarbonization pathways for procurement activities. The project will lay the foundation for a sector-wide, open-source emissions factor database that will continue to be managed and kept up-to-date by the Climate Action Accelerator. The database will also be linked to the Humanitarian Carbon Calculator. The Climate Action Accelerator will continue to perform LCAs on relevant items and integrate emission factors developed by other organizations consistent with the sector-wide methodology.

Project team

  • EPFL EssentialTech Center: Dr.Greg Castella, Dr. Cara Tobin, Ascia Rajput, Emeline Darçot
  • EPFL LEURE: Dr. Sascha Nick
  • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): Kathrine Bad, Carmen Garcia Duro
  • Climate Action Accelerator (CAA): Bruno Jochum, Sonja Schmid, Paolo Sevegnes
  • Dr. Damien Friot

EssentialTech Center                           


Missed the kick-off webinar? Watch the recording below or watch it directly on our YouTube channel!

Kick-off webinar

  • Download the kick-off webinar presentation



(1) The Climate and Environment charter for humanitarian organizations. Read here

(2) For example, the ICRC emitted an estimated 1’040’468 tCO2e in 2021. Approximately 55% of these emissions come from the ICRC’s supply chain.

(3) HCC and ICRC internal carbon accountability tools; Harbi, S., MagaudV., Coquerel, C., QuantisSA, Comparative LCA: Buckets versus Collapsible Jerrycans. March 2013.