At A Glance – Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Organisations are under pressure to assess environmental impact from cradle to grave

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the process of evaluating supply chains to determine the environmental impact of all stages of a product’s life cycle. This begins at the extraction of raw materials through to the point at which the product is disposed of, recycled, or reused. LCA emerged in the 1960s in response to concern over limited resources, but has become particularly relevant today given the rise of the sustainability agenda.

Through LCA, organisations can meet growing demand for environmental accountability by identifying exactly where materials come from, and the impact of product design, development, and deployment. LCA is generally carried out in four main stages: goal and scope, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation – in which results are evaluated and used to come up with recommendations. A hugely important part of this is to then communicate these findings and suggestions. The best suggestions have the least negative impact on the environment from cradle to grave.

LCA has obvious benefits, including greater transparency across stakeholders and shareholders. Knowing the full impact of the supply chain makes it easier for organisations to comply with regulations, and also to prepare for impending legislative change. It also contributes to the improvement of design, processes, and the company’s overall image. For example, a brand that sells bottled water might use LCA results to label its containers with a statement about their environmental impact. Consumers, as we have seen, are likely to be drawn to brands that are seen to care. In other words, profit is becoming indistinguishable from purpose. LCA is also useful for environmental impact assessment, waste management, and pollution research in its own right.

LCA indicates the growing responsibility of businesses to look broadly across supply chains, and to be accountable for each and every stage of the process. This involves asking new but vital questions. For example, if materials don’t come from a sustainable source, then using sustainable production techniques is an ironic oversight. Ultimately, failing to develop a holistic sustainability strategy from cradle to grave is likely to alienate consumers and cause internal confusion about the integrity of the business.

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