Life Cycle Assessment
Posted: August 29th, 2023Authors: Louise S. Maya F.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a powerful tool used to assess the environmental impact of a product, process, or service throughout its entire life cycle. It considers the environmental impact of various stages of the product’s life, including raw material extraction, production, use, and end of life. LCA is not just limited to carbon emissions; it includes environmental impacts in eutrophication, land use, resource depletion, human toxicity, ozone depletion, and more.
What is a Life Cycle Assessment?
LCA is a systematic evaluation of the environmental impacts associated with a product or activity throughout its life cycle. It considers the entire value chain, from the extraction of raw materials, through production, distribution, use, and disposal or recycling. Performing an LCA allows a company to quantify the environmental impacts of a product or process which can help companies improve their environmental footprint.
What are the main goals of conducting a Life Cycle Assessment?
The primary goals of conducting an LCA are to quantify and understand the environmental impacts of a product or a process, identify potential areas of improvement in the life cycle stages where environmental risks, impacts, externalities, and resource dependencies are significant, and guide customer and company decision-making related to selection of more sustainable alternatives.
What are the benefits of conducting a Life Cycle Assessment?
An LCA exercise can reveal insights into the viability, risk, and/or impacts of your products or processes. LCAs can help companies identify points of large environmental impact, enabling the development of more sustainable products and processes. Understanding the life cycle impacts of a product can help companies differentiate themselves in the marketplace and respond to growing consumer demand for sustainable products, giving them a competitive edge. More and more companies are holding themselves to sustainable procurement standards (e.g., Walmart), and in turn require their suppliers to have certain sustainability metrics. LCA creates transparency and enables engagement with stakeholders, fostering dialogue on environmental impacts and sustainability. Finally, LCA can help inform policy and decision making as it provides objective data that can guide decision-makers in choosing more environmentally friendly options and implementing more environmentally friendly regulations. LCA can also identify dependencies on limited or unreliable resources or point out inefficiencies and productivity opportunities.
How can Life Cycle Assessment add value to a business?
LCA is a decision-making tool, and an LCA exercise elucidates quantifiable benefits and actionable information along a product’s life cycle. Stakeholders can utilize comparative LCA to compare the footprints of different products and/or systems. Reducing a product’s environmental impact can increase process efficiencies and in turn decrease financial costs. These comparisons can help identify not only the more environmentally sustainable product life cycle, but also optimize financial outcomes and increase sales and brand loyalty. For example, Unilever found in a case study that a third of consumers are opting to buy from brands that they believe are doing environmental good. The same study uncovered that approximately one in five people would actively choose brands that make their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing.
What are the limitations or challenges associated with Life Cycle Assessment?
There are limitations to LCA that can make it challenging to qualify and validate results. There is inherent uncertainty associated with LCA which stems from data availability and quality. Gathering accurate and comprehensive data on all environmental impacts for all life cycle stages can be challenging, particularly when considering complex global supply chains. There are many LCA databases from third parties available from different industries and areas around the world. The most detailed LCA databases are based on European supply chains which do not provide precise results for supply chains for products or processes based in the United States. Another source of variation in results comes from system boundaries. Defining the boundaries of the LCA can be subjective and may lead to different interpretations and results. It is important to assess the system boundaries when comparing different LCAs. Another source of uncertainty is associated with the impact assessment methods used to calculate the values. There is an associated uncertainty with all impact assessment methods, and it is important to pick the correct impact assessment method for the type of LCA being conducted. LCAs are very dynamic in nature and are influenced by shifting markets conditions, technological advancements, and changes in energy sources, so it is important to update LCAs over time.
Life Cycle Assessment is a valuable tool for assessing and improving the environmental performance of products and activities. By considering the entire life cycle, LCA enables a comprehensive understanding of environmental impacts and provides insights for sustainable decision-making. LCA continues to play a vital role in guiding businesses, policymakers, and consumers towards a product with minimal impacts and an environmentally friendly brand image. If you want to find out more about conducting an LCA, contact Louise at firstname.lastname@example.org or your ALL4 PM.