The manufacturing industry plays an important role in global economic development, however it contributes to a significant share of negative environmental impacts in the form of pollution and waste. Manufacturing companies are subject to increasing pressure from consumers and legislation to improve their own activities towards more environmentally conscious manufacturing processes which create less environmentally damaging products. This pressure calls for product designers and production engineers to identify improvement measures for existing manufacturing systems, as well as create innovative concepts for new products. These investigations need to consider the entire life cycle of the manufacturing system and product, including the impacts related to production, use and end of life disposal.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool used by companies and product designers to better understand their products’ overall and complete impacts – positive and negative. It helps businesses to quantify impacts at the various stages and provides insights to improve performance and reduce environmental impacts.
Why undertake an LCA? There are various reasons:
> Stakeholder and consumer expectations: Increasingly consumers are seeking products with reduced environmental impacts, this is reflected in product purchasing choices.
> Industry directions: The manufacturing industry in Australia has a leading role in improving sustainability of its products.
> Voluntary environmental management systems: ISO 14001 is driving continuous improvement and uncovering business efficiency.
While the key objectives for an LCA often begin with aiming to better understand environmental footprint, the framework can be used to assess other issues including economic and social factors. Examples may include:
> Uncovering production losses, which manufacturing business may refer to as ‘scrap rates’.
> Identifying areas of high energy use, where if savings can be made, will reduce costs and greenhouse emissions.
> Transport and logistics reviews may reveal options to reduce emissions and save costs.
> Raw materials choice for manufacture, including reviewing supplier social procurement practices to protect business reputation.
Businesses that are currently assessing their internal footprint are already on the path to developing an LCA. Examples of this include energy efficiency studies, where energy per unit production helps set a benchmark for assessing business improvements.
If you would like to know more about LCA’s and how an LCA study may help your business development please contact us.
A simple diagram of life cycle assessment