Your corporation may already be acutely aware of the benefits gained from environmental and sustainability management, but how does a life cycle assessment (LCA) fit into the equation?
What exactly is a life cycle assessment, and what opportunities and benefits can it provide to your company in your climate transition efforts?
In this article, the GHG emissions management experts at SINAI provide a plain language life cycle assessment definition and explain the benefits of undertaking a life cycle assessment. We also outline the four steps your company needs to complete to develop a meaningful and sustainable life cycle assessment in 2021.
What is a life cycle assessment?
A life cycle assessment, or LCA, is a method of evaluating the environmental impact of a product or service across its full life cycle. In other words, a life cycle assessment looks at a product or service’s impact on the environment from the day it is created to the day it is disposed of.
It is a comprehensive approach that considers all the relevant activities involved in creating a product or service, including any raw material extraction, processing, distribution and transportation, use, and disposal.
A life cycle assessment makes it possible for corporations to evaluate all the different potential types of environmental impacts associated with their product or service.
The benefit of undertaking a life cycle assessment
There are four critical opportunities provided to a company looking to undertake a life cycle assessment.
The first benefit is the ability to quantify the environmental effects of your corporation’s total energy consumption and air emissions.
Secondly, a life cycle assessment gives your firm the ability to recognize existing inefficiencies and significant changes that occur across each life cycle phase.
A life cycle assessment also allows your firm to compare alternative solutions, and lastly, you can reduce your overall impact on the environment, including the costs associated with effective decarbonization.
The four life cycle assessment steps
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) administers principles and a framework for managing a life cycle assessment known as ISO 14040:2006. This standard is reviewed every five years, with the latest version confirmed in 2016.
The LCA framework consists of four steps:
- Goal and scope
- Impact assessment
Life cycle assessment goal and scope
One of the common challenges faced by corporations when creating an LCA for their climate transition is how to develop a model that avoids distortions that could influence the results, leading to inconsistency.
The most effective way to avoid this is by clearly defining the scope of your firm’s review as well as the primary goal. Defining scope and goals at the outset will help your firm clearly define your product or service as well as its life cycle so that you can set appropriate boundaries and limitations for the assessment, including who the targeted audience needs to be for the eventual results.
Life cycle inventory
The second step of the framework includes considering all environmental inputs as well as outputs, that are directly associated or connected with the product or service.
For example, your firm will create an inventory of the consumption of all energy and any raw materials needed for the production process and any waste streams and pollutant emissions.
This particular step will provide a comprehensive picture of what happens with your product or service and how it affects the environment.
It’s vital in the third step of the life cycle assessment to draw conclusions that will help your firm better understand the decisions that are affecting the company’s climate transition efforts.
To do this well, you will need to select an appropriate impact assessment method. Whether that is ReCIPe, EconIndicator 99, or another credible method, this will help translate your firm’s emissions and resource extractions into a specific number of environmental impact scores through characterization factors.
Lastly, the interpretation step provides your company with data to compare, using the scope and goals you set at the beginning of the assessment.
Keep in mind that if your firm wants to produce conclusions that comply with your original scope, goals, and ISO 14044 standards; for your findings to be valid they will need to be supported by robust data sets used at every step of the assessment.
At this stage, your company will also be able to identify opportunities for improvement and complete strategic decision-making using your findings, in addition to marketing the results.
Streamlining data capture for a straightforward life cycle assessment
SINAI’s award-winning technology solution makes it easy for your firm to capture the necessary data and evidence needed for your life cycle assessment and ambitious climate transition.
In addition, our software helps several corporations measure, analyze, price, and reduce their value-chain-wide emissions. SINAI’s decarbonization platform enables your firm to complete more intelligent carbon emission measurement, reporting, mitigation, and scenario analysis if using science-based methodologies.
Find out for yourself what SINAI’s software solution can do for your business by requesting a demo today.