LCA - Life Cycle Analysis

In 1989 I was commissioned by my employer to act as project manager for the LCA project and it would be done as a balance at a factory in Holland. It was probably what we today call a "gate to gate" - analysis but it was interesting and also the start of my LCA career. Project number two was more like a classic LCA work, where we took into account the entire chain from raw materials, manufacturing and consumption to waste. The product whose life cycle was investigated in this project was a baby diaper. At that time they built often LCA calculations and databases in Excel, which worked but was complex and difficult to grasp. During the 90's the first LCA programs were developed and eventually even databases. I now use a tool called SimaPro, but there are more products on the market.

In my second LCA project we did our analysis on children diaper. We gathered all materials experts for each different part that the diaper was made of. We drew on a large conference pad and after a while a flowchart eventually grew up, incredibly fascinating. The link to the resource consumption became evident when you could see how the material flows floated like jellyfish threads from the product. This also gave the right focus in product development, i.e. to minimize the consumption of materials, making each component as efficient as possible to achieve maximum benefit. One could also see the overall picture of all the small emissions from various processes and transport, and how this resulted in a much greater impact than the image of just looking at emissions from the manufacturing factory.

One should know that this is, of course, models of reality, but I still think this is quite enough to get an overall picture and bring in product development in the right areas. The work in this project was supported by routines which assured that all products were covered by this analysis. Since it was always business management who had to make the final decision about what to sell and the quality that could be acceptable for the customer. In the wake of these considerations, we immersed in to cycle groups to see how our product circulated in the community and how it in the long term would be changed to follow the alternative flows which are better for the environment.

LCA as a method was weakened slightly during the 90's latter half, but then took off again when the EPD, environmental product declaration, came on the agenda and even more when these could be linked to climate declarations. So now a days it's usually EPD that is my gateway to customers who want to learn the LCA. This is good because the LCA requires a commercial use to be able to fit in more natural among the business tools. Business interest is needed, otherwise this excellent tool will not be used for the practical use as one could hope for. Today, there is actually a standard of ISO14040 series for LCA, but I think most people who are actively working with LCA has it more in mind than watching it every day.