Joel Ann Todd
The Scientific Consulting Group, Inc.
656 Quince Orchard Road, Suite 210
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878
So why has LCA failed to live up to its promise of helping decision makers, serving as the basis for determining environmental preferability of products, and other important tasks? We know the conventional arguments - the data are not readily available, the studies are too expensive and take too much time, the results are inconclusive, etc. To address these issues, we have embarked on efforts to develop databases, develop decision support software, refine impact assessment categories, and other tasks. It is the contention of this paper that these efforts will probably contribute to the growing literature and yield valuable insights, but they will not "fix LCA" because we are asking LCA the wrong questions - we are asking LCA to do precisely the things that it is least able to do well. LCA is an excellent educational tool, but a poor decision support tool in most applications. Further, aggregating data across the life cycle reduces the usefulness of LCA and obscures information that could be very useful - to be more useful, we should be emphasizing its ability to highlight problems within the life cycle.
Dip.to ITACA, Università di Roma I "La Sapienza"
Via Flaminia 70
00161 Rome, Italy
Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung
69120 Heidelberg, Germany
The paper analyses the empirical information collected by means of two different research methods, namely i) a survey on the applications of LCA in the four selected countries, and ii) 20 case-studies on selected companies (five per each country).
The results of the survey are based on the information extracted from 382 returned questionnaires (of 1625 sent out). Basically, the survey gives a "static" picture of how LCA is used in the different countries. Main results include information on: Drivers and motivations for starting LCA activities, application patterns (present and future), methodological issues of LCA-"technique", future outlook, and influence on product innovation.
On the other hand, the results of the case-studies give a more "dynamic" description of the introduction, adoption, application and implementation of LCA in business decision-making processes. In particular, the empirical data from the case-studies were integrated within the theoretical framework of the institutionalization theory, which describes the characteristics of the different phases of the introduction of a new phenomenon (a new idea, a new instrument, an innovation in general) into business activities until it becomes something taken for granted and a routine use. The application of this theoretical framework to the specific case of LCA allowed to describe the dynamics of LCA introduction and increasing adoption and to identify the key factors for its successful integration into business decision-making (and/or the reasons for failure). The results highlight the key importance of actors and subjective factors (in particular, the presence and influence of a champion &SHY; or entrepreneur &SHY; who pushes LCA activities within the company). Furthermore, the organizational context, and in particular good internal communication channels within the firm, result to be crucial for a full integration of LCA within business activities. The changing role of LCA over time during the different institutionalization stages is further analyzed and interpreted. The present higher potential of LCA for internal purposes (i.e. its general learning value and its application for R&D) with respect to external purposes (e.g. marketing) is presented.
Finally, the different level of integration and implementation of LCA in the 20 case-study companies and success-stories versus failures are reported and summarized.
Keywords: Management & Regulatory Issues, Decision-making Approaches, Product & Process Design
General Motors Corporation
The basis for conducting a life cycle assessment or contemplating sustainability is the inventory of inputs and outputs that represents an economic sector. The United States Automotive Materials Partnership has conducted a life cycle inventory using a suitable set of metrics to benchmark the environmental performance of a generic vehicle, namely, the 1995 Intrepid/Lumina/Taurus. This benchmark will serve as a basis of comparison for environmental performance estimates of new and future vehicles (e.g., for business as usual as well as for program for a new generation of vehicle kinds of scenarios). The participants were Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, The Aluminum Association, The American Iron and Steel Institute, and the American Plastics Council. The approach was to quantify all suitable material and energy inputs and outputs including air, water, and solid wastes. The inventory covered the entire life cycle; from raw material extraction from the earth, to material production, parts manufacture, vehicle assembly, use, maintenance, recovery, and disposal. An overview of the USCAR AMP LCI of a generic vehicle will be presented.
A large life cycle inventory study can be a complex affair. Apart from the technical requirements of modeling a generic North American vehicle, it was necessary to bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the life cycle table and to have the stakeholders work together for a common purpose. These stakeholders each had different experiences with life cycle analysis, held competing interests, and perhaps entered the project with different expectations. Issues that had to be addressed included goal selection, provision of resources, division of the work among the stakeholders, scheduling and related project planning, as well as the process for decision making. Disagreement on any of these issues might have undermined the project, but the stakeholders resolved to seek solutions. The result was a successfully completed LCI of a generic North American automobile that managed to bring competitors to the life cycle table.
Data categories, data quality, and allocation procedures were defined and implemented. These data related parameters are important for all LCI analyses but are especially important for the vast, interconnected array of dissimilar materials, products, and manufacturing processes coupled with complex use, maintenance and disposition life cycle stages. As a result of this complexity, data is necessarily collected from an equally wide range of potentially incompatible sources. To achieve a coherent end result, it is imperative to not only define these data-related parameters but also to define them in terms that are applicable throughout the complex life cycle of an automobile.
The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry has noted that the peer review process is a key feature for the advancement of life cycle assessment. The International Organization for Standardization has provided further guidance and requirements for conducting such reviews in ISO 14040. According to the SETAC Code of Conduct for Life Cycle Assessment, the overall objectives of life cycle peer reviews are to enhance the scientific and technical quality of the study and to enhance the credibility of the study by assisting the proponents in focusing key aspects of the study such as the goal, scope, and methods and reporting of results. The code provides specific guidance for study commissioners and reviewers with respect to evaluating various aspects of an LCA study including goal definition, scoping, boundary definition, data quality, reporting, and the documentation of the review process.
While the results are generally the most exciting aspects of an LCI study, the details of the LCI model that generates the results are equally significant, particularly when modeling the life cycle of an automobile. The number of parts, supply chain complexity, materials composition, and the demanding set of OEM requirements for model features required special LCI methods and solutions. Ecobalance and the University of Michigan served as the principal investigators responsible for constructing the life cycle inventory model and for integrating material production inventory data sets into the LCI model.
To complete an inventory of automobiles, one must consider the end-of-life or scrapped vehicle issue. There are nearly 200 million vehicles currently in the US fleet of vehicles and more than 700 million vehicles worldwide. A descriptive analysis of the end-of-life processes has been made, including material recovery processes and the reuse of parts. A computer model has been constructed to analyze the impact of specific regulations, market factors, and business policies on the recyclability of materials and the reuse of parts. The computer model includes several stages of the end-of-life process, including, vehicle sales, usage, retirement, dismantling, shredding, parts and vehicle rebuilding, maintenance and repair. An example of the use of the model on material substitution will be presented.
Daniel J. Fiorino, Director
Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation
Performance Incentives Division
This presentation briefly reviews the state of the art in environmental performance measurement. It illustrates the progress that has been made with examples from government (including the PCSD example), the corporate sector (including leading firms, such as Dupont, Interface, and others), and non-governmental organizations (principally the GRI). After reviewing the state-of-the-art, the presentation will consider several issues, including:
1. What do these efforts offer as a basis for long-term use of sustainability indicators?
2. What do sustainability indicators add to established environmental indicators?
3. How is the challenge of verification being met?
4. What role is sustainability reporting likely to play in the future of environmental policy?
The purpose of the presentation is not so much to answer these questions as to frame the issues to promote informed discussion by the participants.
Kevin Brady, Director
Five Winds International
With this scientific backdrop the world's climate specialist, policy makers and lobbyist met in Bonn last November to discuss the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.
Among the many issues discussed at this two-week meeting one of the key topics was measurement and reporting of GHG emissions. In the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol accurate and credible reporting of emissions is crucial for a number of reasons;
1) Foremost is the need to understand whether national governments are meeting the binding emissions reduction targets agreed to in the protocol. This tracking is conducted through national inventories that estimate the releases of the six major greenhouse gases from 180 different sectors and sub-sectors of the economy.
2) Secondly, within the Kyoto Protocol there are provisions that will enable countries or entities to reduce their emissions through co-operative implementation mechanisms. These so-called flexibility mechanisms enable countries or private entities to achieve reductions through the transfer emission reduction units, or trade emissions, depending on the mechanisms (See Box 2). To be accepted by policy makers, and more importantly for emissions trading, the marketplace, these mechanisms must be based on accurate and credible measurement of emissions. Failure to develop a credible measurement system will undermine the buyers and policy maker's confidence in the claimed reductions. This lack of confidence would limit the acceptance and uptake of these important emission reduction mechanisms and it will deflate the value of the reduction units or credits generated.
3) Thirdly as decision-makers in government and industry begin the difficult process of evaluating technologies and policy options for GHG mitigation there must be some credible means for evaluating the effects these activities will have in terms of reducing emissions. For example, if a national government wanted to provide tax subsidies to less carbon intensive energy sources a credible means of measuring the emissions profile for the various alternative supply options is needed.
All of the above situations require measurement of a baseline situation against a new situation. National inventories are large complex data sets that are based on macro level input/output models of economic activity, but the latter two situations require more specific modelling and measurement of individual projects, technologies or actions. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Framework as described in the international standard ISO 14040 and elaborated in the full series of ISO LCA standards (ISO 14041, 14042,and ISO14043) proves an excellent starting point for supporting greenhouse gas measurement for these applications (the flexibility mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol and policy and technology assessment for GHG mitigation).
In addressing global climate change it is imperative that the measurement tools utilized provide an accurate picture of whether GHGs are being reduced. Because the point of release for GHGs is not relevant to the potential impact (i.e. a tonne of CO2 equivalents is equal to a tonne of CO2 equivalents no matter where it occurs) the measurement tool must be capable of assessing system wide implications of any action. For example, decision-makers need to be assured that an improvement option undertaken in a manufacturing plant does not result in upstream or downstream changes that will increase the overall release of GHGs. Such increases could arise from a large number of scenarios such as an upstream switch to more carbon intensive materials and processes or a design change that requires the product to be made from non-recyclable material. By tracking energy flows and GHG releases throughout all of the stages in the product life cycle LCA provides a system-wide perspective that enables decision-makers to see and evaluate these trade-offs.
It is also important that in the rush to reduce GHGs we do not aggravate other environmental concerns such as resource depletion, solid and hazardous waste generation, and the release of toxic substance which impact human health and ecological systems. Therefore the measurement tools utilized must be holistic and not focus on solely greenhouse gases. LCA meets this criteria as it not only tracks energy and energy and non energy related GHG releases, studies typically also track the consumption of other resources such as water and materials as well as multiple environmental releases (e.g. wastes, ozone depleting substances, toxic substances and common air pollutants). Box 4 illustrates the range of impact categories typically evaluated in LCA studies. This holistic perspective helps the commissioner of the study understand the trade-offs inherent in any change to the system and it helps ensure that a reduction in GHG is not does not result in other impacts such as increased release of toxic substances to the environment.
Another consideration in the chose of measurement tools is the need for globally accepted procedures and rules. Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism involve partnerships among players in different countries, different sectors and in the case of the CDM countries at different stages of economic development. To have confidence as a "buyer" of emissions reductions one must have a means to evaluate the proposed project or reduction option and evaluate it against a credible internationally accepted standard. This confidence is required to ensure that the emission reduction is real and verifiable and to demonstrate to other stakeholders that the "buyer" has shown due diligence with respect to ensuring the emissions are real. For LCA the International Organization for Standardization has developed such standards. The ISO 14040 series of LCA standards developed by ISO Technical Committee TC207 are now completed. These standards are flexible and allow the commissioner of the study to design it to meet their own particular objectives (goal and scope of the study). The standards provide direction on setting appropriate system boundaries, developing reliable data collection and handling procedures, evaluating and interpreting data and reporting in a transparent manner. This set of procedures and guidance offers an excellent starting point for the development of measurement protocols for GHGs. This is particularly true if the LCA standards are considered in conjunction with an environmental management system that can provide a framework for setting objectives and targets related to GHG reduction.
ISO TC207 Climate Technology Task Force (CTTF) has evaluated the potential relevance of the ISO standards to the issue of global climate change and they are now actively promoting the use of the standards by parties involved in the UNFCCC activities. With respect to LCA the CTTF noted "in particular, ISO 14041, the Life Cycle Inventory standard, can assist organizations in measuring greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. It may be used to establish a baseline of greenhouse gas emissions for a product system to benchmark environmental improvements or to evaluate alternatives. This can be done for the whole system but also broken down by unit process (e.g., electricity production or transportation). Specifically the CTTF report noted that the standard can be used to:
1. Develop quantitative inventories of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a product system.
2. Develop quantitative inventories of the greenhouse gas emissions of the unit processes that make up a product system (e.g. electricity production, transportation).
3. Provide data and information to identify which unit processes have the greatest use of energy and the greatest emissions.
As discussion around the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol shift from the policy level to implementation issues the importance of measurement and verification will increase. LCA and the ISO standards related LCA and EMS can play an important role in helping develop a credible market for the GHG reductions. In many ways applying LCA to the measurement of energy systems and GHG emissions is bringing the tool back to its roots. LCA developed from extended product systems analysis and energy systems analysis in the 1960's. Today as we re-examine energy systems in the context of global climate change we have the benefit of the support of international standards for conducting and evaluating LCA studies and a large body of practical case examples that demonstrate the utility of this decision-making tool for industrial and policy applications.
Rita C. Schenck
Institute for Environmental Research and Education
This is a most unfortunate state of affairs, because recent estimates of resource use indicate that half of the surface of the globe is currently used to support human activities. This implies that those native ecologies of those areas have been replaced with artificial ecologies to a greater or lesser extent. The evidence for the importance of alterations in land use lies before us everywhere. In the US, over half of the wetlands have been "improved" and converted to farmland or to urban use. The entire surface of Europe and of eastern North America was once heavily forested. The conversion from forestland to urban and agricultural use continues in western North America, South America, and areas of Asia. It is clear that agricultural use and urban sprawl have a much greater impact on the ecosphere than all but the most intensive chemical impacts. Ignoring these impacts of product systems calls into question the comprehensiveness of assessments, especially when biobased products are offered as alternatives to conventionally produced products.
The existing methods of land use impact assessment tend to fall into three types: weighting schemes, schemes based on the existence of endangered or threatened species, and inventory methods. Most of these methods depend on highly site-specific information, which is not available in standard LCI databases. Yet it is the nature of land use alterations that they are entirely site-specific.
New satellite imagery offers the potential for a land use indicator that can be consistently applied worldwide. It is time we, as LCA practitioners, developed frameworks for gathering land use data and for globally applicable land use indicators. Failing to do so now, as standards for data collection are being developed, will cripple the credibility of our work well into the future.