Assessing a product’s impact.
A new highway limits the life expectancy of residents with two years and a house can be build completely climate neutral. With little thought these statements seem senseless and sometimes even absurd, but they are based on complicated environmental Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs).
An environmental LCA tries to analyse all emissions within the lifecycle of a product or system. This to determine what effects these emissions have on subjects such as ozone layer depletion and global warming. LCAs are widely used to investigate environmental effects, determine the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of companies and to compare products.
When comparing products the goal is to identify the most sustainable option for a specific task. To do this the description of this task is brought back to its most abstract form, its Functional Unit. A Functional Unit describes the function a product should fulfill and the quantity and timespan it needs to be to fulfilled in. For example, the goal is to cross a river (function), two times a day (quantity), by car (an extra specification) for ten years (timespan). This functional unit could be fulfilled by a ferry, a bridge or a tunnel. Now that the products for comparison have been identified the question remains what to take into account when determining the impact of a product. Do we take into account the production facilities? And if so, do we have to take into account the emissions that have been emitted when the production facilities were created? The more an LCA takes into account the more complicated it becomes. Once we have determined the depth of the study the LCA is executed.
Since an environmental LCA is a tool that is used by many, specific formats are used to calculate the effects of the emissions. In other fields of expertise LCA tools remain limited, if they exist at all. During the course Product Lifecycle groups were given the task to create a LCA tool that can be used in other segments of product development. Below is the result of such a LCA, aimed at engineers and product managers in the maintenance section.