Saturday, May 10, 2008

Use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) in Sustainability Programs

Recently read a blog post on TriplePundit by ClimateCheck, regarding the development of ISO 14064, which covers the measurement and reduction of GHG emissions.

A comment in the article (link is here) caught my eye:

"One of the challenges is the use of an “approved or standardized” approach to quantifying the carbon credits created by new technologies. There are many approaches being used, ranging from in-house engineering calculations to full life cycle analyses (LCA) and computer models"

It made me think about the 'state of the art' of LCAs...(yes, I know: I may lead a very lonely life)......anyway, I do think that LCAs can be a very powerful tool to identify, measure, and manage GHG emissions, as well as do the same for other important 'sustainability' metrics such as: resource consumption (i.e. water); toxics use and emissions, and of course carbon footprinting.

LCAs have been around for quite a while; I developed (rudimentary) tools for environmental management problems in the 80s and 90s; focusing on chemical disposal / recycling challenges. Product Stewardship and 'Responsible Care' were the primary drivers of this market at this time; both programs were developed by the chemical industry in response to potential strict regulations in the aftermath of catastrophic environmental incidents (Bhopal, West Virginia chemical releases). But these programs did not really look at impacts in production; they focused more on the impacts after the sale.

Currently, qualitative LCAs are in use ("LCA Lite" is a term a peer of mine in the manufacturing consulting industry has used). These are quite useful for strategic planning, prioritization and ranking of initiatives and programs, and communications / marketing purposes, but may not add value for decision making on supply chain optimization and 'greening', or similar decisions in green product development in PLM efforts.

I think the standards organizations such as ISO and the Voluntary Carbon Standard are taking a lead in the development of rigorous methodologies, as well as definition of metrics that may be accepted by industries.

This is a market sector that I think both technology companies and service providers may have significant success in the next few years; tech companies in the CSR and supply chain mgt sectors are well positioned to incorporate LCA functionality (and data sets); and 'white space' development and industry - specific customization will be required to get LCAs to the point of being widely accepted tools for sustainability decision making.

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