Since products inherently create impacts on the environment, industry is increasingly recognising the need to effectively handle mitigate environmental impacts and take stock of their products environmental aspects. A key way in carrying a survey of a products environmental impacts throughout its life-cycle is by employing a Life-cycle assessment (LCA). LCA involves the evaluation of some aspect - often the environmental aspects - of a product system through all stages of its life cycle. It represents a rapidly emerging family of tools and techniques designed to help in environmental management and to foster sustainable development.
LCA has proven a strikingly useful internal tool for environmentally sound product development within companies. Whilst screening environmental aspects of a product from cradle-to-grave, an LCA is also becoming embedded in environmental management systems and provides a basis for communicating a products performance. It is thus an effective tool to determine and prioritise environmental aspects and their required countermeasures.
The drawbacks of carrying out an LCA are that it is a very expensive, time-consuming and complex endeavour, which involves processing a large amount of data over a long period of time. Further, the results can be manipulated depending on the choice of data as well as scope of the study. Additionally, from a policymakers viewpoint, LCA may not necessarily be appropriate for general comparisons between products with the same function since results may vary between specific situations and from market to market. However, if these limitations are duly identified, then LCA act as a very useful guiding point and management tool for setting priorities at the infant stages of product development.
LCA helps to identify the following aspects:Energy demand and energy sources in the use phase; The way materials can be dismantled from the product; Recyclability; Distribution systems; Choice of packaging; Service and maintenance needs;
Hence, the use of LCAs information enables people to identify the most likely areas for improvement at the product development phase as well as during the use phase. Without the use of an LCA, it is increasingly more difficult to focus on the appropriate aspects of greener product development.More information on EnviroWindows