By: Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff, Go Green Director at KOMPAN

The footprint of a playground

playground post made from recycled consumer waste material
Playgrounds are an integral part of urban landscapes and local communities around the world. However, in an era where the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly visible, it is necessary to consider how playgrounds are impacting our planet. As our expert explains in this article, one phase of a playground’s life cycle in particular accounts for most of the environmental footprint.

More than just a place for children to play

Playgrounds are more than just a place for children to play, learn and develop their skills. Behind the swings and slides lies the reality that playgrounds have a deep environmental footprint. From the moment raw materials are extracted to the time when the play equipment needs to be discarded, each phase of a playground’s life cycle poses a potential challenge to our environment.

– We’re seeing more and more signs that business as usual, where we extract virgin resources only to use them once and then discard them, is not sustainable, says Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff, Go Green Director at KOMPAN. Dorthe has been leading the company’s efforts to map the climate and environmental impact of KOMPAN’s playgrounds.

– To make fundamental changes, you need to look at the entire life cycle of your products. It’s not enough to cherry-pick the parts of your value chain where you perform most favourably. From the beginning, we decided on a complete and transparent account of how our business impacts our climate, she explains.

“To make fundamental changes, you need to look at the entire life cycle of your products.”

Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff, Go Green Director at KOMPAN

The climate culprits exposed

KOMPAN chose the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG) to map the company’s impact on global warming. The GHG Protocol helps organisations focus their efforts on areas where they can make the most significant impact on reducing their carbon footprint. The protocol divides emissions into three "scopes":

Scope 1: These are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, such as fuels burned in company vehicles or furnaces.

Scope 2: This covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy, such as electricity or heating that a company buys and uses.

Scope 3: These are all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain, including both upstream and downstream emissions. This can include anything from the production of purchased materials, to waste disposal, employee commuting, and the use of products and services sold.

A girl helping another girl climbing up on a climbing structure on a playground


After mapping all emissions there was no longer any doubt as to where the climate footprint of a playground stems from:

– Approximately 80 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions are a result of our use of raw materials in Scope 3, says Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff. In other words, the lion’s share of a playground’s climate footprint is caused by the extraction and processing of virgin resources to produce materials such as steel, aluminium and plastic.

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“The lion’s share of a playground’s climate footprint is caused by the extraction and processing of virgin resources to produce materials such as steel, aluminium and plastic.“

Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff, Go Green Director at KOMPAN

Raw materials with obvious benefits

There are good reasons as to why modern playgrounds rely so heavily on steel, aluminium and plastic. These raw materials have come to dominate playgrounds around the globe because of their many advantages over the playground materials they have replaced:

– Before steel and plastic, playgrounds were often made from plywood: a material that needs to be painted and varnished for it to last, explains Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff. By contrast steel, aluminium and plastic are extremely durable and require little or no maintenance. The materials also have added safety benefits because of their strength and durability.

To summarise, there is a very long list of requirements for any new and greener playground material, as both steel, aluminium and plastic have numerous benefits in creating lasting playground experiences. Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon. Innovations in more sustainable designs and materials are increasingly shaping the playgrounds of the future.

Innovations in more sustainable designs and materials are increasingly shaping the playgrounds of the future.

Long-term solutions

Despite the size of the challenge, KOMPAN has worked hard to develop material replacement solutions with a reduced carbon footprint.

However, when building a greener playground, it is not enough to consider the materials themselves. It is also important to consider how much material is needed and how it affects the lifespan of the playground:

– It goes without saying that the less material you use, the less CO2 you emit. But less material also leads to more fragile constructions, says Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff, and she adds that KOMPAN always thoroughly tests any new playground material and solution. You can read more about that here.

Dorthe also highlights another consideration when developing greener replacement material. The materials should be easy to dismantle and reuse when the playground reaches the end of its lifespan:

– Our recycled plastic can be easily separated and dismantled, making it easy to sort, dispose of and recycle, she explains. She also highlights that the plastic is almost maintenance-free.

boy in red clothes looking through binoculars on a playground

Transparency is key

When choosing a greener playground solution, it is important to know the climate impact of the playground equipment.

Since 2021, KOMPAN has made it possible to receive documentation on the full carbon footprint of a standard product together with CO2e/kg and the recycled percentage of the total product to make it easy to compare with other types of products.

The information is available in KOMPAN’s standard product sheets, which include the total CO2e consumption. The calculation method has been third-party validated by Bureau Veritas.

– Transparency through quantifiable data is key to making more sustainable choices, and I believe this is what we in the industry will have to base most of our sustainable decisions on going forward, concludes Dorthe Thorup-Kjærulff, Go Green Director at KOMPAN.

Q&A on Carbon Footprint

What does CO2e mean?

Carbon dioxide equivalent or “CO2e” is a term for describing different greenhouse gases in a common unit. For any quantity and type of greenhouse gas, CO2e signifies the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent global warming impact.

What does the unit CO2e mean?

Carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e means the number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of another greenhouse gas. It is calculated using Equation A-1 in 40 CFR Part 98.

How are our carbon emission calculated on products?

The CO2e calculation and data use the principles of a carbon footprint impact according to the GHG protocol (Greenhouse Gas Protocol), Scope 3, cradle to gate related to all individual components in the product category. Scope 3 emissions include emission sources in the upstream and downstream value chain. The overall framework applied for these factors is the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which quantifies “environmental information on the life cycle of a product and enables comparisons between products fulfilling the same function” (ISO, 2006). This follows the structure and applies a Life-Cycle Assessment approach to the entire Product stage, from raw material through manufacturing (A1-A3).

What is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol?

The GHG Protocol establishes comprehensive global standardized frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions.

What are Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Greenhouse gases trap heat (longwave radiation) in the atmosphere, keeping the Earth's surface warmer than it would be if they were not present. These gases are the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect, which is creating global warming and, consequently, climate change.

What does kg CO2e / kg mean?

We use the total CO2e for a product, divide it by the total weight of the product, and then you have the relation between weight and CO2e. Having this value, you can compare products of different sizes and volumes.

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Designing Greener Playgrounds

Welcome to the discussion on the ever-evolving landscape of playgrounds – an essential aspect of childhood development that now takes a turn towards responsible materials and practices.

In this magazine, we'll delve deeper into the specifics of these materials, exploring the benefits they bring to playground design and their positive influence on the overall environmental footprint of these spaces.

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