How do you take a life cycle perspective?

by Suzanne Orme

While presenting a series of one day courses on behalf of SAI Global entitled “Preparing for the transition to ISO14001:2015″ I became aware that one of the concepts in the Standard is new to many people. Its the taking of a “life cycle perspective”.

So, what does this mean?

A life cycle is defined in the Standard as the “consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to end-of-life treatment”.

Life cycle assessment has been around since the 1990’s and is often called the “cradle-to-grave” approach for assessing industrial systems. This begins with the gathering of raw materials from the earth to create the product and ends at the point when all materials are returned to the earth.

LCA enables the estimation of the cumulative environmental impacts resulting from all stages in the product life cycle, often including impacts not considered in more traditional analyses (e.g., raw material extraction, material transportation, ultimate product disposal, etc.).

By including the impacts throughout the product life cycle, LCA provides a comprehensive view of the environmental aspects of the product or process and a more accurate picture of the true environmental trade-offs in product and process selection.

It should be noted that a full LCA on each product is not a requirement of ISO14001:2015. The introduction of the term “life cycle perspective” will simply translate into a stronger expectation for companies to consider how their decisions impact further upstream or downstream of its operations.

They will need to demonstrate how they used their influence on suppliers, contractors, customers and consumers to improve sustainability across the supply chain.

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This article was updated to remove the word “draft” after the final version of ISO14001 was published.

3 thoughts on “How do you take a life cycle perspective?

  • Shaun N
    December 1, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for explaining LCA in a simple straightforward way. We already screen our suppliers for environmental criteria and have a preferred supplier list but hadn’t considered anything impacts further upstream such as resource extraction. When it comes to waste I think most companies concentrate on abiding by the law only. This gives further food for thought.

    • Shaun N
      December 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Shaun

      Waste is an area of operations that can save money in waste disposal fees. In a truly sustainable world, with zero waste, all by products of a process will be beneficially re-used in another. That’s good for the planet but it lifts productivity and profits as well.

    • Suphunnika I
      December 5, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Indeed Shaun. In an extreme situation, the supply chains of the product cause nearly 50% of environmental impact produced during the entire product life cycle. The root causes are found mainly in the energy used to extract and process the raw material, the types of transportation mode and the travel distance.

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