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Unlocking Sustainable Futures: The Imperative of Life Cycle Assessment for Every Company

The first SETAC14 definition describes the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as “an objective process for assessing the energy and environmental loads related to a process or activity, carried out by identifying the energy and materials used and the waste released into the environment. The assessment shall include the entire life cycle of the process or activity, including the extraction and treatment of raw materials, manufacture, transport, distribution, use, reuse, recycling, and final disposal.” (Baldo et al., 2008).




 

 

The LCA method, which allows the accounting of all direct and indirect environmental impacts, was designed in the late 1960s, with the increase of ecological awareness, to measure their true extent and counteract the uncontrolled consumption of non-renewable resources (and wastewater production) of industrial processes. At the beginning of the 1970s, some industries (i.e., Coca-Cola Company) began to characterize the life cycle of some of their most-used materials to compare the sustainability and the efficiency of different supplies employed to achieve the same service or product (Baldo et al., 2008).


Researchers started to analyze the production system's environmental performance by examining step-by-step the materials' life cycle with a "from cradle to grave" approach, which means studying all the input and output generated from the material extraction, transformation, transport, and use until their disposal. This approach is fundamental to avoid losing the overall view.





The widespread use of LCA applications has led the Committee of the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) to refine the guidelines initially proposed by SETAC. Drawing up the 14040 series standards, they instituted a worldwide accepted methodology, becoming the most reliable reference for this procedure (Baldo et al., 2008).


LCA is an excellent instrument for conceiving sustainable development policies, furnishing the scientific basis necessary to set mandatory environmental standards. In the past, control bodies, taking into account the climate crisis, first set up a series of command-and-control policies to curb indiscriminate pollution. Over the years, they made a gradual shift to voluntary instruments, which allowed the genuinely eco-interested companies to improve themselves and demonstrate their commitment by voluntarily joining eco-management initiatives (Baldo et al., 2008). Nowadays, the European Union encourages LCA methodology for the products' eco-design in a circular economy perspective (European Environment Agency, 2016)


 




Here are several reasons why every company should consider conducting an LCA analysis

  • Environmental Responsibility: Demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability by understanding and mitigating the environmental impacts associated with products or services.

  • Regulatory Compliance: Helps companies comply with environmental regulations and standards, as some industries or regions may require environmental impact assessments.

  • Risk Management: Identifies potential environmental risks and allows companies to develop strategies to manage and minimize these risks, reducing the likelihood of regulatory fines or damage to reputation.

  • Product Improvement: Provides insights into the environmental hotspots of a product's life cycle, enabling companies to make informed decisions about design, materials, and processes to reduce overall environmental impact.

  • Cost Savings: Identifies opportunities for resource efficiency and waste reduction, potentially leading to cost savings through improved production processes and reduced material usage.

  • Market Competitiveness: Consumers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of products. Conducting and publicizing LCAs can enhance a company's reputation, making its products more attractive to environmentally conscious consumers.

  • Supply Chain Management: LCAs can be extended to assess the environmental impact of the entire supply chain, helping companies work with suppliers to improve sustainability and reduce the overall environmental footprint.

  • Innovation and Differentiation: Encourages innovation in products and processes by fostering a deeper understanding of environmental impacts and promoting the development of more sustainable alternatives.

  • Customer and Stakeholder Expectations: Many customers and stakeholders, including investors, expect companies to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Conducting LCAs is a tangible way to showcase this commitment.

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Supports corporate social responsibility initiatives by proactively addressing environmental concerns and showcasing a company's efforts to reduce its ecological footprint.

  • Long-Term Viability: Assessing and addressing environmental impacts contributes to a company's long-term viability by ensuring that its products and operations are in line with evolving environmental regulations and consumer expectations.

Conducting a Life Cycle Assessment is a valuable tool for companies looking to integrate environmental considerations into their decision-making processes, enhance their environmental performance, and contribute to long-term sustainability goals.




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I started Sustainability House with the goal of offering readers a glimpse into my thoughts and experiences. What started out as weekly posts have evolved into a dynamic site packed with information about various topics that are near and dear to me. Take some time to explore the blog and see for yourself what makes you curious and eager.

 

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