A Thinking Guide with Life Cycle Analysis
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Everything produced goes through a series of life cycle stages. The scientific process of understanding what effects occur as a result of materials moving in our economy is called Life Cycle Analysis.
Theoretically, Life Cycle Analysis is used to identify, report and manage the environmental impacts at different stages of the life cycle, starting from the acquisition of raw materials used in the production of a product or service, including all relevant production, shipment, use by the consumer and disposal as post-use waste. These environmental impacts are evaluated on the basis of natural resource consumption such as climate change, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, eutrophication, acidification, and toxic emissions.
A Quick Introduction to Life Cycle Analysis
Life Cycle Analysis is a scientific process that evaluates the environmental impact of a product, system or service. ISO standards have a special series for Life Cycle Analysis, and the commonly used and accepted standards for Life Cycle Analysis are ISO 14040 and 14044.
Basic components of life cycle thinking
This type of thinking requires clear framing and the ability to express what you've discovered, why and how you will do it, in order to provide clarity and transparency. Therefore, working with Life Cycle Analysis has a clear goal and scope for evaluation, allowing a system boundary to be established.
'Purpose and scope' is the framework in which the study is carried out.
Life Cycle Analysis is all about functional units - what you need to do to achieve functionality - To make a hamburger; You have to cut down trees, set up a factory farm, raise and feed the cows, raise the cows, kill them and then process the meat along with all the other transportation, packing stages. All these activities - such as energy, water and of course cows - require inputs and therefore have outputs including waste and emissions along with the desired raw product. And all of these have implications for the environment.
Why should you understand the entire life cycle of your product?
First of all, if you are in any of the industries that produce things, then you should hire experts to help you understand the basics of their ecological impacts as well as using LCA data. (See this example of Levis).
Life Cycle Analysis data should always be for the entire life of the product. However, as I will explain later, Life Cycle Analysis studies can be grouped as "cradle to grave", "cradle to door", "cradle to cradle" and "door to door" depending on the stage of the life cycle.
Most companies focus solely on their packaging, and this is usually a much lower domain than the actual product. The same can be said for the end-of-life focus that many design teams take when trying to create a so-called 'eco product'. This narrow vision often leads to uninformed decisions, increased environmental impacts, and unintended consequences.
The best way to start the process of adopting sustainability or the circular economy is to start with a systems and lifecycle thinking approach.
We cannot predict the path to sustainability and therefore it is absolutely essential that we have a more lifecycle approach at all decision-making levels.
But to be fair, these are all complicated things. Hence, Life Cycle Analysis is a very new phenomenon for many companies. However, it is much more accessible than in the past. There are many more experts, more university departments conducting studies, and much more data.
How can life cycle thinking help?
Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is about going beyond the traditional focus on the production site and production processes to include the environmental, social and economic impacts of a product throughout its entire life cycle.
It is like a magic mindset that encourages a producer to think about cause and effect, consequences and potential before anything happens so that the decisions made ultimately allow to maximize the environmental benefits of the creature.
How is the life cycle thinking approach applied?
Learning new things is usually not that easy (try learning a new language as an adult), but it is a desire to learn something new that isn't difficult.
You must want to explore the hidden world of how things are done in order to absorb new thinking tools.
In this series of guides, I'll quickly show you how to get started with a life cycle approach.
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