In this article we will see what the LCA is and how it works. Business and sustainability are increasingly connected, therefore one cannot neglect the adoption of sustainable policies without risking an impact on long-term financial objectives.
For this reason it is vitally important to adopt systems such as LCA, or Life-Cycle Assessment. This method, recognized by ISO standards, quantifies the environmental consequences caused by human actions related to the production of goods or services.
How does an LCA work?
The detailed analysis of environmental impacts leads to identification of factors such as carbon footprint (carbon emissions), water footprint (water pollution), greenhouse gas (GHG) and energy efficiency.
This system is also called “from cradle to grave”. It performs a data analysis that starts from the extraction of raw materials and extends to until the product reaches the end of its use-life.
The assessment does not only address the product itself, but also the associated services and labor, including considerations about the impact of maintenance, reuse and recycling.
For example, through a LCA it is possible to establish:
- amount of energy used for production;
- energy consumed by a product during its use;
- cost of disposal;
- impacts and emissions from production and disposal.
The 4 Steps of LCA
This tool add greatly to effective corporate sustainability because it helps identify the company activities of bigger impact. Consequently, it helps set appropriate strategies and plan the priority actions to put in place to reduce or eliminate them.
The LCA is divided into four steps aimed at identifying, collecting, analyzing and evaluating certain environmental impact data based on the company’s processes, products, general operations and management.
Step one: Definition of objectives and scope of application
This first step lays the foundation on which the next analysis will be based, so it is vital to perform it with the utmost care and scrupulousness.
During this step all the objectives are defined (in line with the company’s strategy). Specific targets and metrics are set. To make mistakes or failures in this first phase means to invalidate all the rest of the assessment, so the definition of objectives is a step that should not be taken lightly.
Step two: Analysis of inventory
This is the most complicated and laborious phase of the whole process. It includes the collection of all the data that influence the metrics and targets previously established through step one.
This is a major piece of data analysis work that aims to establish the starting point on which to build the final sustainability strategy.
Step Three: Impact Assessment
Once the data has been collected, it is processed. Such assessments is necessary to subsequently design plans to mitigate the environmental and social impact of the production chain.
Step four: Interpretation of the results
On the basis of the data obtained in phase two and the results processed in phase three, it is decided which corporate policies to follow to reduce the environmental impact. The production processes are revised and re-designed accordingly to the targets set in phase one according to the objectives.
For some types of companies, it is possible that this analysis may also include waste disposal processes: as mentioned, the LCA goes as far as the end of the use-life of the product/service. If a waste management plan proves necessary, the range of analysis widens.
Through the LCA, data will be collected on the disposal of the product to minimize and possibly eliminate the negative impacts of its end of life
Advantages for companies
As complex as the process may seem, requiring some investment in time and budget, the LCA brings countless economic, environmental and reputational benefits.
It must be considered that this system was born not only with the aim of protecting the environment, but also to integrate sustainability into business processes. It is a typical instrument to achieve a positive Triple Bottom Line.
Indeed, today it has a very powerful environmental connotation given the global climate and environmental
emergency looming. However, thanks to the European farsightedness in the matter, for several years now the LCA has enjoyed a mark of international standard quality. The LCA is mainly regulated by two ISO systems, 14040:2006, establishing the principles and the reference framework, and 14044:2006, regulating the guidelines to be applied.
A strategic tool
Consequently, the Life Cycle Analysis becomes a strategic tool to improve or even redesign goods and services produced and distributed by any company.
This analysis of production systems allows to discover which phases of the chain can be improved, both from an economic and environmental point of view.
Businesses can also count on the financial support of the European Union to companies that aim at a green conversion. All this without counting the effect on revenues of the growing liking of customers for products and services that can credibly demonstrate a reduced environmental impact.
Another example of how the EU supports this kind of policies is the Ecolabel, an official European environmental-label that establishes which products are considered having low environmental impact through standard quality certificates.
Life Cycle Assessment is a powerful tool, supported by a rigorous approach that fully embraces an environmental management strategy applied to the life cycle of products or services.
A LCA provides a solid contribution to the continuous improvement of business processes and helps to achieve quantified and reliable results to support decision-making. Scientific research in this regard is also constantly evolving and will increasingly focus on optimizing this analysis.
The LCA is still a new approach for small and medium-sized enterprises. However, through financial support from various sources and research programs it is still possible to encourage them to choose this path.
We are increasingly aware of the relationship between LCA and ecodesign. The use of this tool is undoubtedly a must for the sustainable evolution that guarantees prosperity, development and new perspectives to any kind of business.
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