Life Cycle Management: Concepts and Definition

As indicated in the Business Guide to Sustainability by Life Cycle Management (Remmen et al. 2007), which itself is based on Remmen and Münster's (2003) report to the Danish Ministry of Environment and the pioneering SETAC publication on Life Cycle Management by Hunkeler et al. (2004), LCM has been developed on the basis of fundamental concepts related to sustainable development, which are the triple bottom line and life cycle thinking. The most popular definition of sustainable development is the one from the United National World Commission on Environment and Development “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Commission 1987). This definition is based on two key concepts “needs” (the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given) and “limitations” (the restriction imposed by technologies and socio-economic factors on the ability of the environment to meet the needs of present and future generation).

The triple bottom line (3BL) is a framework that integrates the “three dimensions of sustainability: economic, environmental and social” (Fig. 2.1) (Remmen et al. 2007). They are also called the three Ps: people, planet and profit. Businesses traditionally used to account only the economic aspect of their “bottom line” through profit they gain or lose. However, the modern accounting broadens the definition of bottom line to a full cost accounting by including the environmental cost on ecosystem service and a cost on the society. The consideration of 3BL in the conceptualization of LCM allows companies to broaden their focus from only economic aspects to the environmental and social dimensions.

The goal of life cycle thinking is to avoid burden shifting by assessing a product's use of natural resources and its impact on the environment, the economy and society throughout its entire life cycle. The life cycle of a given product involves a number of stages from the extraction of raw materials through processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, recycling, reuse or final disposal (Fig. 2.2). Life cycle thinking

Fig. 2.1 The three dimensions of sustainability

Fig. 2.2 The life cycle of products and services

enables to consider the environmental, social and economic impacts associated with the production or consumption of the product by taking into account all the stages of the product life cycle. It provides a means of ensuring that improvements in one stage are not creating a greater cumulative impact by simply shifting the burden to another stage of the life cycle. Therefore, it also allows companies to see the influence of their choices with regard to sustainability and help them take decisions, so trade-offs can be balanced positively to impact the economy, the environment and society.

In this context, LCA as an ISO standardized analysis is just one decision-making tool used to assess and identify the environmental aspects and potential environmental impacts of a product over its life cycle (ISO 2006a, b). Life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) is the combination of LCA, life cycle costing (LCC) and social life cycle assessment (SLCA) to assess the three dimensions of sustainability for products (Finkbeiner et al. 2010; Klöpffer 2008; UNEP 2011). In addition, also other tools such as material flow analysis (MFA), input–output analysis[1] and environmental risk assessment (ERA) are used by organizations to address their sustainability challenges.

LCM allows organizations to put life cycle thinking into modern business practice by using these tools. However, LCM is also about the systematic integration of product sustainability in company strategy and planning, product design and development, purchasing decisions and communication programs (Remmen et al. 2007).

A particular aspect of LCM is the question of who has which responsibilities in the product life cycle with regard to sustainability and who can do what under which circumstances. Evidently a retailer like Wal-Mart has more power to initiate change within the supply chain than for instance a supplier of automotive parts. Furthermore, the existence of sector wide collaborations like the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) shows that there is space for joint work of companies of one sectors to address supply chain challenges, which in the case of GeSI have been addressed for instance by E-TASC (Electronics – Tool for Accountable Supply Chains), which a web-based tool utilized by companies to manage their own factories, communicate with their customers and assess their suppliers on corporate responsibility risks.

A related facet of life cycle (sustainability) management is how it is embedded in sustainable consumption and production (SCP) policies. SCP is understood as the “The use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations” (Norwegian Ministry of the Environment 1994). It means that SCP is a holistic approach that has at its core a life cycle perspective, which is the attitude of becoming mindful of how everyday life has an impact on the environment and society.

According to UNEP (2012), SCP focuses on the sustainable and efficient management of resources at all stages of value chains of goods and services encourages the development of processes that use fewer resources and generate less waste, including hazardous substances, while yielding environmental benefits and frequently productivity and economic gains. Such improvements can also increase the competitiveness of enterprises, turning solutions for sustainability challenge into business, employment and export opportunities. SCP also encourages capturing and reusing or recycling valuable resources, thereby turning waste streams into value

Fig. 2.3 SCP policies along the product life cycle (UNEP 2012)

streams. The fundamental objective of SCP is to decouple socio-economic development from environmental degradation.

SCP policies cover all the areas highlighted in Fig. 2.3. A core element linked to SCP is resource efficiency that is about ensuring that natural resources are efficiently produced and processed, and consumed in a more sustainable way, as well as about reducing the environmental impact from the consumption and production of products over their full life cycles. By producing more wellbeing with less material consumption, resource efficiency enhances the means to meet human needs while respecting the ecological carrying capacity of the earth.

That means SCP is based on a life cycle approach but the link to how it is put into business practice using multiple tools mentioned above is not addressed in the same way as in LCM. Therefore, the question on how tools like LCA are actually used in public policy making and hence might influence business operations has been covered under the heading of LCM in the past. Overall there seem to be high expectations of the future use of LCA in SCP policy areas such as sustainable public procurement and eco-design directives as well as consumer information. However, there are still certain challenges to overcome such as the lack of good quality and available data, the lack of valid and internationally recognized calculation principle, more capacity building and resources.

  • [1] See “LCA Compendium”, volume “Special Types of Life Cycle Assessment” (editor: Matthias Finkbeiner), chapter 6 “Input–output and Hybrid LCA” by Shinichiro Nakamura and Keisuke Nansai
 
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