By Esther Dormangen
President and Senior Sustainability Advisor
Ellio, sustainable strategies
Life Cycle Analysis in Technical Service Offerings
Let Me Introduce You to This Topic...
The perspectives of LCA:
Life cycle analysis had become a tool we use with different strategic objectives. There are several ways we’ve found this methodology useful.
First of all, it is essential to know that you can look at LCA form an environmental, a social or economic angle. The most common one is the environmental LCA that shows where your main environmental impacts are, at each step of the life cycle.
The social LCA should become essential when the company’s dealing with suppliers or facilities in developing countries or might find itself in the situation of directly or indirectly coming in contradiction with the capacity of humans to meet their needs (freedom, security, decent wages, etc.), locally or not.
The economic life cycle analysis is focused on calculating the real costs of the product and its service over time. For example, if you compare 3 sorts of floor covering, you should evaluate, over let’s say 20 years, how many times you’ll have to renew the floor, the maintenance it involves, etc. This has an impact on your environmental LCA and the purely financial business case of your investment. This is not at all an usual calculation for companies, who tend to jump to the cheapest option.
Limitations of LCA:
A lot of times, companies are hoping the results will deliver a magic formula to demonstrate their product is better than their competitors. That should not be the main objective of their study. Indeed, LCA cannot always easily compare two products that appear to be comparable. For example: comparing 1 organic soup to a non-organic one. There are so many variables that must be considered in the calculation that it might become extremely costly and difficult to collect the data. If suppliers are in Europe and other ones in Latin America, the results will change, which means that you would need to ask your competitor where his suppliers are based and even contact those suppliers if you want more accuracy. There is little chance he will give you the information! And collecting all that data will become extremely time consuming therefore expensive.
Useful ways we’ve seen LCA add strategic value is in those cases:
Use LCA to understand where your main impacts are and how to reduce them: that’s the beauty of LCA. In food processing, chances are that your main impacts are going to be in the production of the ingredients (no surprise as we know agriculture is the most intensive user of water in some dry areas of the globe, and that the FAO has evaluated that 40% of the food produced for humans will not be eaten by them !!!). In clothing, the raw materials, the quality and life span of the garment, and the energy needed to heat the water to wash the clothes might very well come out as main contributors. In home appliances, the reparability might be part of the solution (see what Moulinex committed to in order to guarantee reparability over 10 years: they will make plans available to print those pieces on 3D printers https://www.moulinex.fr/produits-reparables…). A business model revolution!
Compare your performance over time: once the company has changed some elements of its supply chain or product design, it is extremely useful to update the LCA to identify the evolution and identify the next hot spot to tackle. The beauty is that there is always something to improve, count on the LCA to tell you what.
Compare several options in your supply chain (suppliers or products). You can evaluate food producers for the same ingredient produced in different countries, packaging solutions, etc. As long as you can contact those suppliers and collect real data, in order to improve the reliability of the results. Of course, it is often a first indication to run LCA on database data only, without first line data from suppliers. This can give you trends and help you decide where it makes more sense to collect first line data: raw material suppliers, transportation modes, end of life…). But no communication should be made on those conclusions.
Realities of LCA:
Of course, it is often a first indication to run LCA on database data only, without first line data from suppliers. This can give you trends and help you decide where it makes more sense to collect first line data: raw material suppliers, transportation modes, end of life…). But no communication should be made on those conclusions.
Esther's Reading List
Prana is the company that revolutionized the healthy snack industry. This helped them understand where they should concentrate on their supply chain to
lower their impacts. They also have identified their next revolution.
About the Author
Our company’s mission is to develop individuals' empowerment in order to transform their organizations towards regenerative and resilient models, which create more value for society.
Since 2003, we have been working with management teams to help them develop business models, management and operational practices which make more sense and preserve the quality of the environment. We have created a social consulting enterprise in sustainable development, socio-ecological transition, or social responsibility involving a six people team and our ecosystem. This Montreal-based company have been certified B Corp since 2015 and Eco-responsible since 2017. We work with SMEs, large companies, municipalities, professional associations, financial institutions and other organizations to help them build their strategies, measure their impacts through Life Cycle Analysis, co build their projects with their stakeholders and implement more sustainable ways of doing business.
We have created the Montreal Sustainable Development Course with the City of Montreal, the Council for Sustainable Industries and the Government of Quebec through which, we offer a one-year program including training, strategic planning, coaching, renowned conferences and events to twenty SMEs.
I've been teaching the Sustainability consulting course at McGill University since 2016.