In the realm of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainable business practices, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an essential tool for evaluating the environmental impacts of products. How much water is required to manufacture a product? What are the greenhouse gas emissions during its use? LCA serves as a proven method to precisely answer these questions.
Today, we delve into the world of Life Cycle Assessment, its methodology, context, and the tangible benefits it can bring to companies committed to transparency, social responsibility, and environmental management.
Life Cycle Assessment is a method designed to comprehensively assess the environmental impacts of a product or service. The fundamental objective is to facilitate eco-design and enable the selection of the most responsible products, materials, and production locations in an effort to reduce impacts.
Using a holistic approach, LCA examines potential environmental impacts and resource consumption throughout the life cycle, from raw material extraction to the final waste treatment stages, including manufacturing, transportation, and use.
1. Definition of Objectives and Study Scope: Clearly define the purpose of the analysis and set specific objectives. Identify the boundaries of the system under analysis and determine the life cycle stages to include.
2. Inventory Analysis: Collect data on all inputs and outputs throughout the life cycle, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use, and end-of-life disposal.
3. Impact Assessment: Evaluate the environmental impacts associated with the inputs and outputs identified in the inventory analysis.
4. Interpretation: Interpret the results in the context of defined objectives and scope, draw conclusions, and identify areas for improvement.
Take the example of a high-visibility polyester/cotton pants: the goal is to provide an environmental display by assessing the life cycle impacts. The company selling the pants has information about its manufacturing location and supplies fabrics to the manufacturer. It lacks information about the thread and raw materials used.
Therefore, it is possible to use specific data for known stages of the company's operations, such as emissions during transportation, the use of renewable energy, or the color used for garment dyeing. Data that the company does not have knowledge of will be substituted with average data. The reliability of an LCA depends directly on the quality of the data used. When possible, Yamana traces the value chain to obtain the most accurate information.
When all these production, transport, use, and end-of-life data are gathered as input (referred to as a life cycle inventory), environmental impacts are assigned to each of these stages as output. For our pants, we obtain 18 impact indicators, formatted according to the European PEF 3.0 method. Among them are well-known indicators like kg CO2 eq (carbon dioxide equivalent), representing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the pants' life cycle, and the amount of water used in m3. There are also indicators for eutrophication, ozone layer depletion, and emissions of fine particles.
We learn that the studied pants emit 37.5 kg of CO2 eq. during its life cycle and use 3000 liters of water. But where does the impact predominantly come from? To answer that question, we will then identify the most polluting manufacturing, use, transportation, and end-of-life stages to implement an action plan to reduce impacts. For this, a search for "best practices" to implement must be carried out to act optimally.
1. LCA for Eco-design
LCA allows companies a detailed understanding of the environmental impacts associated with their products, enabling informed decision-making in design, production, and sourcing. In an eco-design approach, it is possible to systematically reduce a product's environmental footprint by evaluating its impacts based on chosen materials, transportation, manufacturing processes, and production countries.
2. Competitive Advantage
Companies adopting LCA gain a competitive advantage by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability, meeting consumers' demand for environmentally friendly products. Conducting LCA can allow for environmental labeling on the product, accessible to consumers during the purchase process. LCA can also be useful when a company responds to a tender that has integrated environmental criteria into its clauses.
3. Regulatory Compliance
LCA helps companies navigate and comply with constantly evolving environmental regulations, reducing the risk of non-compliance. Such regulations include the Carbon Footprint or the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). While LCA is a product-oriented approach, when considered in a comprehensive approach, it allows for estimating orders of magnitude regarding the company's emissions.
LCA plays a crucial role in current sustainable business practices, as evidenced by its standardization in ISO 14040-44 certification. Highly recommended and supported by the European Union, LCA is a comprehensive, multi-stage, and multi-criteria approach. Since the 1980s, LCA has become a cornerstone for various entities, including international, European, and national public bodies, the scientific community, and industrial players.
Thus, Life Cycle Assessment is not just a method for assessing environmental impacts; it is a transformative approach for responsible and sustainable business practices. By understanding its methodology, context, and tangible benefits, companies can harness the potential of LCA to redefine the future of their industry. The "Impact" plan proposed by Yamana CSR integrates the implementation of LCAs, the results of which are formatted for environmental labeling and responding to tenders. Join us on the journey towards a more responsible, transparent, and environmentally friendly corporate world—where every choice is a strategic step towards positive change.