Could the well-established LCA methodology be the missing catalyst needed to empower both business and consumers to make more sustainable decisions? Textiles expert Bowie Miles thinks so, but we just need to do one thing first.

Every product, every company – indeed each one of us – casts a shadow on the environment.  Understanding the environmental impacts of all the products we use is crucial and fast becoming a regulative requirement.   The million-dollar question is how do we accurately measure these impacts?

This is where Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) enters the arena.   LCA has been around for well over 50 years, and since the 90’s as a defined scientific methodology.  I see

LCAs a little bit like detective work – to investigate the product’s entire life story.  Starting from the raw material inputs (the cradle), through manufacturing, transportation, use and finally disposal (the grave) and/or recycling. Each step and process are documented and assessed for its environmental impacts.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Move LCAs from “nerdy” to “normal”

So, why isn’t LCA more mainstream? Three things for starters: Data, data, and more data.  That, and the need for greater accuracy.  Then there’s also transparency within the supply chain, or sadly the resistance to it in some cases.  In addition, there’s the lack of education – creating awareness of how to read, use and understand LCA throughout the supply chain and for us as consumers.  On top of these issues, creating an individual LCA today can be expensive and time consuming, which does not sit well for brands with thousands of products.

What do we need to do to overcome these hurdles? Just one thing really: We need to move LCAs from “nerdy” to “normal;”  to demystify the complexity of LCA as it currently stands, making it accessible for all so that it can be used as the tool was intended – for decision making.  Which recycled material to use? Which renewable energy input? Which environmental impact to tackle first?  LCAs can help provide the answer.

Technology has also advanced to offer software that can create “agile” LCAs in just minutes. This is a true game changer for brands sporting huge product catalogues, allowing them to achieve the granularity and accuracy required without a gargantuan effort and budget.

And for the consumers: Imagine shopping with the ability to compare not only the price but also the environmental impact in a simple, easy to read scorecard.  Make informed choices about the product you choose to buy – or decide not to buy.

Fast forward to the (near) future and only “worthy” scorecard products will be available to purchase.  This would in turn mean a positive knock-on effect throughout the supply chain on how and where we manufacture.

Let’s embrace Life Cycle Thinking

LCA’s are a tool to support our journey towards a more sustainable future.  They form the basis for Product Environmental Footprints, which will develop into Digital Product Passports.

I encourage those who are hesitant to take the first step and learn more about LCA’s.  Do not be put off by the acronyms and numbers.  Start to collate data within your business, organization, or industry and build business practices to drive sustainability forward based on real primary data.   You may be surprised where the real impact is.

Life Cycle thinking is both a state of mind and a potentially powerful tool to pave the way towards our better tomorrow.  Let’s make some changes today.



Illustration: iStock

Bowie Miles
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