As conscious consumers, we often face difficult questions like ‘which is the better alternative for the environment?’
Sometimes the better alternative is easily perceivable, and at other times it is not. We have various pieces of information available which help us make these choices. And other information confuses us more than anything else!
We may trust what the experts tell us, look for certifications and ratings or look at the emission or impact reports ourselves.
Today, we wanted to explore with you one way that organizations and companies can make better environmental decisions.
Organizations also have to ask such questions to improve their products and reduce impacts.
And by better understanding that process, consumers can also take better decisions to support companies actually making a change!
One tool by which organizations measure the impact of their products (or services) is called ‘Life Cycle Assessment,’ henceforth, LCA. While we are commonly taught or consider life cycles as occurring in nature, we can readily apply the concept to products and services made by man. The life cycle of a manufactured product begins with collecting all of the materials needed to create it through production and concludes with deciding what to do with it once it is no longer in use.
Check out this excellent video on the life cycle of a T-shirt by ted-ed.
LCA is a modeling method that evaluates a product’s environmental implications over its whole life cycle, from raw material extraction to processing, manufacture, distribution, usage, and disposal or recycling. LCA helps decision-makers to compare two goods and choose the one with the lesser negative environmental effect. In some cases, LCA is even used for product or process improvement; for, e.g., you find that a specific component in your product leads to a significant amount of emissions, which may direct you to decide to replace that component.
LCAs can be very insightful as they provide a holistic view of environmental impacts. For example, a specific product may be environment friendly in the ‘use’ phase but might have been very energy-intense to produce. This holistic view also prevents burden-shifting while improving products and processes.
Government regulations are moving toward “life-cycle responsibility”: the idea that a manufacturer is liable not only for direct manufacturing consequences but also for those related to product inputs, usage, transportation, and disposal. Furthermore, businesses are taking part in voluntary projects that include elements of LCA and product stewardship.
As consumers become more aware of impacts, it could be beneficial for organizations to perform LCA studies on their products.
It is needless to say that LCA is not perfect and does possess certain limitations like every other tool. It is not always easy to obtain all the data to assess a model with accuracy. LCA examines the real world in a simplified model, so it relies on assumptions and scenarios. Studies can also have varying scopes: one study may leave out impacts or processes that another includes. Furthermore, doing LCA research consumes a lot of resources, owing to the vast amount of data required. The study might not draw meaningful results if the data collection is faulty or if there is insufficient data.
There are means to overcome these limitations. If the LCA study is entirely transparent with all the assumptions stated clearly, the reader can quickly assess the study’s validity. Furthermore, more stringent guidelines and cross-sectoral collaborations could improve the quality of the LCA and reduce variability among studies.
In order to support businesses that are really sustainable and not just trying to surf on the wave, it is important to keep an eye on the big picture and the Life Cycle Assessment is a great way to do so!
Start paying attention to the life cycle of the products you buy and read into the LCA offered by the company!
We at SellSage are attempting to conduct a screening LCA to better understand the impacts of our products, starting with our Plantry line.
We are looking forward to sharing more with you soon! Stay tuned!
References and further reading:
Y.M. (2018). FibreNet | Life Cycle Assessment: Benefits and limitations. FibreNet.
Life Cycle Assessment. (n.d.). Defining Life Cycle Assessment. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from
Matthews, H. S., Hendrickson, C. T., & Matthews, D. H. (2015). Life cycle assessment: Quantitative approaches for decisions that matter. Retrieved June, 1, 2016.