II Advancing the Implementation of Life Cycle Management in Business Practice
This part focuses on the LCM progress made with regard to implementation processes of life cycle approaches and its linkage to business value creation.
From Projects to Processes to Implement Life Cycle Management in Business
Abstract In general, companies start using a life cycle approach to manage the sustainability challenges and opportunities of their products through projects using life cycle assessment or other tools of the life cycle management toolbox like greenhouse gases accounting. As companies gain experience the way they manage the life cycle of their products matures, it becomes less about implementing projects and more about putting in place organization-wide procedures. The latter allow companies to address systematically the identified business challenges and opportunities of their whole portfolio or at least their key products with much less effort than carrying out multiple individual projects.
Keywords Life cycle assessment (LCA) • Life cycle management (LCM) • Sustainability • Process integration
A Brief History of Life Cycle Approaches
In the beginning of a new thinking some aspects dominated the discussion. Energy – in the way it is technically used so far – is limited and environmental impacts can be a threat, if ignored. As the supply chain has to cooperate to solve (economic and technical) tasks and harvest its opportunity, it was quite evident environmental aspects needed a supply chain approach as well.
Life cycle thinking (LCT) was borne in the 1980s. In the 1990s, scientific bodies like SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) recognized a need to draft rules to harmonize the new way of thinking, calculating and analyzing products systems in a way that international cooperation and exchange is fostered. This “Code of Practice” (Consoli et al. 1993) may be understood as an important yardstick to turn thinking into doing.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) was about to be borne (Fava et al. 1990) and became an international standard under ISO in 1997 (ISO 14040: 1997). Building on this new standard industry, research and academia was able to use this method in a consistent way. Due to differences in goal and scope between stakeholders the interpretation of the systems and the results can be different; however keeping to ISO ensures that the differences remain understandable and interpretable. This empowers consumers or users of information to check against their own (technical, political or private) motivations and boundaries. The method remains consistent and transparent. The possibilities within this new assessment method reached beyond engineers and scientists. The call to consistently measure, control and target against life cycle results combined with related communication measures lead to a further evolution.
Life cycle management (LCM) developed from a professional interpretation and decision with the help of life cycle assessment. For most professional users of life cycle based sustainability approaches in industry, these three evolutionary steps belong together. LCT is the required mindset, LCA the method and LCM the process.
From Pioneers to Industry Standards
There are many individuals mentioned if talking about scientific or societal thought leaders in life cycle aspects and the roots of sustainability. However, thoughts stay basically fictional until they are applied and measurable.
Pioneer companies like, e.g., Volkswagen, Daimler, Renault, BASF, DOW, Wacker, ThyssenKrupp, and Amcor recognized quite early on the necessity and opportunity to apply the topic in a professional manner using a standardized method, related software tools, a blend of own in-house data, specific supplier data, realistic upstream data and justified background data.
During the 1990s, pioneer companies and organizations pace their way towards international standards. Without these pioneers, LCM probably would not have (or at least significantly later) matured into applied LCA about two decades ago (see also Hunkeler et al. 2004).
From Trial to Maturity
After the international standards were in force, the number of studies with questionable claims decreased, whereas the number of studies with reasonable results increased. Most likely due to better identification of unjustified claims. Reducing the arbitrary application of the method, combined with clear rules, described life cycle assessment being implemented in a number of companies and organizations in the mid-1990s to early 2000s to drive product innovation.
Even having now the standards and related reviewers available, some stakeholders or believers in specific schools of thought still pretend today LCA is arbitrary: However, in most cases the preferred method of these critics are completely nonstandardized and sometimes even their private invention. Even more astonishing, the most arbitrary results originated rather not from industry, maybe because of self-protection.
However, refocusing on the important aspects, it may be summarized that LCA took its chance to mature from scientific into professional applications in industrial organizations, while some non-standardized approaches, some experimental databases and trial software disappeared.