Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product or service system at every stage, from cradle to grave. It can be of great benefit to your business.
LCAs provide in-depth data for your business to identify the areas of most impact in your value chain, enabling you to make informed decisions and prioritise potential changes. The systematic approach covers resource use, human health, and ecological consequences – all of the impacts generated during each phase of a given product or service.
Because of the detail involved, an LCA can be complex, time consuming and costly to undertake. However, the benefits are substantial as the results can be robust, quantitative and defendable.
How you can use an LCA:
- for the design or improvement of a product or a process.
- to identify 'hot spots' in your value chain (Step 2 in this Guide).
- to compare the environmental impacts of products that provide the same service over their life cycle, such as cloth vs disposable nappies or glass vs plastic bottles to prove and improve environmental performance and to inform eco-labelling or environmental certifications.
The Lifecycle Association of New Zealand (LCANZ) has a number of other useful case studies detailed which can be found here.
- Making a case for hybrid electric vehicles: Umicore and Toyota commissioned an LCA to understand the environmental benefits of the hybrid electric Toyota Prius and its batteries over the use of traditional fossil-fuelled vehicles. The study concluded that the environmental impact of the Prius in the "use" phase was significantly less than the conventional car due to the lower energy requirements and climate change contribution of the Prius. in Collaboration, innovation, transformation. Ideas and inspiration to accelerate sustainable growth – A value chain approach (page 16).
- Solvay case study: in Collaboration, innovation, transformation. Ideas and inspiration to accelerate sustainable growth – A value chain approach (page 14).
- OI Glass carbon study: When it comes to Carbon Footprints, are you getting the full picture?
- For an example of innovation on using LCA to deal with the end of life phase of a product to create a sustainable outcome see the Sabic case study in Collaboration, innovation, transformation. Ideas and inspiration to accelerate sustainable growth – A value chain approach (page 32).
Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)
There is an increasing demand from customers and consumers worldwide for credible and comparable environmental information on products.
EPDs are "an independently verified public declaration of environmental performance of products for all or parts of the life cycle" that "provide an internationally recognised format for declaring the environmental performance of a product, based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). They are generally voluntary (with some exceptions) and may be produced for specific materials and products or an average of the same or similar products within a sector (for example, at a trade association level)" – BRANZ
EPDs do not claim whether a product is greener or more sustainable than another, they just disclose information for professionals to interpret or rank.
EPDs are increasingly being used in Australasia. In New Zealand Allied Concrete and David Trubridge have had products verified and the Green Building Council of Australia, also includes EPD Innovation Credits in its Green Building Rating tool, Green Star.
More information on EPDs can be found on the EPD Australasia website.