All You Need To Know About Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)
For sustainable companies on a mission to battle the ever-growing issue of climate change, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is not just an option but a full-on necessity. In the most recent years, customers have been vocal about their demands for environmentally friendly products which definitely reflects the world’s changing desire for a clean and green planet. That’s exactly why businesses need to incorporate LCA, a very specific analysis, in their sustainability or CSR strategy.
Let's start with a definition. In simple terms, an LCA is able to help companies evaluate the environmental impact of a product through its life cycle including the extraction and processing of the raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, use, recycling, and final disposal.
The benefits of LCA's for sustainable companies
Helps comply with regulations
Companies need to make sure that their products adhere to certain regulations. In some countries, in particular, it’s mandatory to disclose the environmental data of products with an LCA for public projects.
Helps reduce the environmental impact of supply chain
No matter the product in question, it’s evident that in many cases the supply chain accounts for more than 80 % of the environmental impact. With the help of an LCA, companies can receive actionable insights and choose the right suppliers to further minimise their environmental footprint.
Inspires trust and transparency with your stakeholders and customers
With so many customers choosing to trust brands that are transparent and honest, it goes without saying that having a publicly-displayed LCA report sets you apart from the competition and inspires trust.
Investors are highly interested in companies with strong ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) strategies, and thus, it’s important to be able to showcase your business’ value through, a complete LCA report.
Now let’s go over the different stages of LCA.
What are the 5 stages of a LCA
1- Raw Material Extraction
During the very first stage, it’s crucial to go back and understand what the land was being used for before we extracted the materials and then evaluate the method of extraction. Did the process actively harm the ecosystem? How many natural resources were needed in order to extract those raw materials, and so on.
2- Manufacturing & Processing
This is where we need to examine the impact of turning raw materials into finished products. All stages of the manufacturing process should be taken into consideration as well as the inputs and outputs (including the input of energy and output of Co2, etc.) to figure out the exact positive and negative impacts on the environment.
From evaluating the packaging materials and getting recommendations for packaging improvements to assessing the impact of sending products across the world/state and evaluating the transportation methods, here is the part where companies monitor the direct effects of the energy use and emissions associated with the movement of the vehicle.
4- Usage & Retail
During the use phase, we can get a clear idea of whether or not a product is “active' which means that it needs specific care on the consumer’s part (eg. washing, plugging, drying) or “passive” which, in this case, it requires no additional inputs (eg. a piece of furniture). “Active” products usually require additional energy or resources needed to use or maintain them while “passive” products have lower use phase impacts but have a higher manufacturing or material extraction impact.
5- Waste Disposal/ End-of-life (EoL)
During the last phase of the LCA, companies can have a clear picture of the exact category their product falls under when it comes to the 4 main EoL options. The first two are landfill and littering which forces it to lose its sustainable value. The second option is recycling (or reusing, repairing, and in some cases remanufacturing). Lastly, we have incineration, a waste treatment process involving the combustion of substances in waste materials.
Ultimately, this systematic analysis of the potential environmental impacts of products or services is highly encouraged as it can help sustainable businesses measure and quantify the end-to-end environmental and economic impacts of a product.