How to take a lifecycle perspective on environmental impacts

Supply chain

By Suzanne Orme 19/2/17

Having facilitated a number of Environmental Management System (EMS) training courses on behalf of SAI Global I discovered that one of the concepts mentioned in the latest version of the International Standard,  ISO14001:2015 – is new to many people. Its taking a lifecycle perspective on environmental issues.

What does the term “life cycle” mean?

A life cycle is defined as the consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to end-of-life treatment. (ISO14001:2015)

Life cycle assessment (LCA) 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.

Is is necessary to conduct a detailed LCA?

It should be noted that a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on each product is not strictly required by the standard.  The introduction of a “life cycle perspective” simply translates into a stronger expectation for companies to consider how their decisions impact further upstream or downstream of the company’s operations. They now need to demonstrate how they used their influence on suppliers, contractors, customers and consumers to improve sustainability across the supply chain.  In most cases this can be demonstrated through processes for sustainable procurement and contracting.

However, if you need assistance in this space we can arrange for an LCA to be conducted on your product(s) by one our associates who is a member of the Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society (ALCAS), Australia’s peak professional organisation for people involved in the use and development of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), management and thinking.

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