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How to determine the environmental impact of a product with LCA

Eric Bartlett

When you strive for sustainability with your company, it is beneficial to consider sustainability in your product design. Considering the environmental impact of your product in the design process, can make the whole product more sustainable. In order to determine the environmental impact of a product, you can use LCA. […]

When you strive for sustainability with your company, it is beneficial to consider sustainability in your product design. Considering the environmental impact of your product in the design process, can make the whole product more sustainable. In order to determine the environmental impact of a product, you can use LCA. LCA, or Life Cycle Assessment, is a tool for measuring the environmental impact of a product. The LCA offers you different scopes for performing an assessment.

Discovering hotspot of environmental impact

LCA offers you a standardised method of determining the hotspots of environmental impact. The LCA provides you with an overview of possible hotspots, which based on the characteristics of the product can be either more sustainable or more polluting. Generally the factors considered in discovering these hotspots are: the raw materials, production, transport, use and maintenance and waste or recycling. Based on the level of environmental impact of these hotspots, the design of the product can be altered to reduce the environmental impact.

Different scopes

The hotspots of an LCA can be viewed in different scopes to determine the environmental impact. The most circular of the scopes is the cradle-to-cradle LCA. The cradle-to-cradle approach focuses on the reduction of raw materials and waste. Every component of a product is intended to be used in a new product once its lifecycle has passed. Additionally, the loss of value of the components should be minimal.

How to perform an LCA

The execution of an LCA is documented officially in ISO 14044. Following these guidelines provides you with an official assessment of the environmental impact of a product. The assessment is completed after following four phases.

In order to make decisions based on the result of the LCA, it is necessary to determine a goal. Additionally, it is important to consider the target audience and the scope of research in this first phase. The second phase entails the collection of data. In the third phase, the data is compared to the predetermined research categories. This serves as the base for the fourth phase: interpretation.

Making informed adjustments

The fourth phase usually results in a document that follows ISO 14040:2006 guidelines. The interpretation entails the identification of the most important problems, an evaluation of the execution of the LCA and conclusions and recommendations based on the assessment. The interpretation is essential in adjusting the design of a product based on environmental impact.

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