Author: Michael Spielmann
Life Cycle Assessment in a Nutshell
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) helps companies who strive for more sustainable products and operations and may even result in a whole new set of appealing products. New insights help to build consumer trust in brands. LCA also supports companies to set-up joint projects within their supply chain.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systematic evaluation of environmental impacts, such as CO2 emission, use of water, energy and land, waste production and biodiversity. LCA is validated and science based. It calculates the environmental impact of the production, distribution and use of a product. The quantification of the impact makes it possible to compare several production methods, ingredients and packaging materials. Doing LCA, it becomes clear how you can reduce the environmental impact of products effectively and how to monitor progress in a transparent way.
LCA aims to evaluate the whole life cycle of a product, from the raw materials to the end-of-life. A pilot LCA identifies the most environmentally unfriendly phases, the so-called hotspots. For example, the production of the raw materials is the biggest environmental burden for pasta production, see figure below. Such information guides to prioritise actions, therefore serving the businesses’ strategy. As a result, your product portfolio becomes more sustainable. This process may even unlock a new way of thinking that results in a new set of products that appeal to consumers.
Companies can influence the processes during food production, but have limited influence on the use of products by consumers. Therefore, it is advised to start the LCA process by taking measures during food production. LCA is an appropriate tool to identify the potential for joint projects with your suppliers to reduce the environmental impacts of products. Together, you can then monitor the success.
Create persuasive communication
The absolute scores of an LCA are often difficult to communicate to non-experts. Thus, we strongly recommend developing a range of benchmarks to help the audience understand. It is recommended to engage stakeholders across the value chain, such as suppliers, clients and consumers, to develop persuasive communication. Engagement with consumers can be achieved in consumer focus groups, which have been identified as a valuable source of information for marketing. Marketers can then tailor the communication to the consumer’s understanding and perception and create a compelling, fact-based story, illustrated with graphics or data visualisation. The example aside shows the impact reductions after packaging improvements.
“Carbon Footprint” or “Product Carbon Footprint” is a known methodology that gives an idea of CO2 emissions. In practice, LCA is frequently applied to identify greenhouse gas emissions. Taking action on measuring and reducing carbon impacts is an excellent first step; nevertheless, when defining actions to reduce the carbon footprint, it is essential to avoid an increase of other environmental impacts, the so-called “burden shifting”. Therefore, after measuring carbon, most companies take the next step to address additional environmental impacts such as water footprint, impacts on biodiversity, the portion of land used or energy used.
A pilot LCA can be performed within 6 weeks without extensive data collection. You can read more on conducting a pilot LCA by pressing the “read more” button below. As a leader in food LCA, Quantis can help you get started. Quantis collaborates with diverse organizations to apply the science of environmental measurement to sustainability strategy, engagement and training activities, IT development, as well as reporting and communications. Get in touch at the end of this article or visit www.quantis-intl.com.
It is recommended to start with a pilot on one of your products, typically a star or representative product in your portfolio. To select the product, consider your sustainability goals or issues. They can also be defined through a ‘Materiality Assessment’ that identifies which environmental issues are important to your stakeholders. If one of the goals is to communicate, then consider a star product that carries wide brand recognition. Furthermore, you should focus on a regional market to avoid differences among markets.
Many of the data for processes, materials, energy supply, transportation, chemicals, crops and so on are already available via Life Cycle databases such as http://www.ecoinvent.org/. Moreover, LCA studies are publicly available for many food products and can be used as a starting point. Companies still have to collect some of the data themselves, such as energy consumption.
LCA Hot Spots
Results are usually displayed for different steps of the life cycle. Such contribution analysis is often referred to as hotspot analysis. Based on this hotspot analysis, engagement with suppliers and customers can be prioritised.
LCA is standardised in the ISO 14040 series and can be integrated with existing programs around product design, procurement and beyond to provide a lens for assessing and acting in the area of environmental sustainability.