A full LCA study for most or all products in a portfolio often isn’t practical or cost effective just because of how many products a company has. And we think it is far better to have a lot of good data in an accessible system across your business than a few full-blown LCA reports. The reason is that products that appear similar can often have quite different environmental impacts.
Here are three approaches to streamlining an LCA that can still provide valuable insights into what drives a company’s sustainability performance and how it might be improved.
- Available data – Some of our clients have successfully focused their product assessments and sustainability improvements on data that product designers work with every day (e.g. ingredients). They focus their other teams like manufacturing and packaging on overall targets. Often these companies have done several full-blown product LCAs and have a good general idea where their hotspots are. This approach works well where materials are different across a portfolio and material choices make a big difference to sustainability.
- Common components – Some product lines are homogenous in nature. A good example is electronics. A line of laser printers can be very similar in terms of the parts they use. Here, common components like power supplies and PCBs (printed circuit boards) can be footprinted in detail and then “consumed” by product LCAs in units that drive the component footprint. PCB footprints for example tend to be related to the number of layers on the board and the weight of the board. HP is an example of a big company with homogeneous product lines that uses this approach.
- System data – Often a company has recipe data for its products (technically called a bill-of-materials or BOM). The first step in a BOM based approach is to build a library of materials weighted by use. The second step is to classify each material or class of material in terms of its impact focusing on those materials (or classes) with the highest impact. This approach can be efficient because you don’t spend much research time on materials that don’t have much relative impact or are used in much quantity. The 3rd step is to combine the library with the product recipes programmatically to generate “system” product footprints.
These approaches to streamlining work well together. Many large FMCG product manufacturers have decent BOM data, a manageable list of high impact materials, and parts of the LCA that lend themselves to component footprinting like packaging, manufacturing and distribution