From Project to Process
LCA is recognized as the best available methodology to investigate environmental sustainability performance in a reliable and transparent way and for communication, along the value chain and throughout one's own organization; to support and help to cross-check development and strategic decisions. LCA in practice must be time, cost and resource efficient. LCA results and the underlying data are only the basis for communication and decision making and are to be converted into a technical conclusion, the nature of which is determined by the recipient of the result (e.g., product engineers, executive management, marketing, suppliers, or consumers). LCA is applied for quantitative environmental management and should reflect the industrial reality adequately. This sounds trivial, but often enough data and modelling approaches are used to produce results, which have a goal and scope that is not suitable for decision support. Benchmarking one's own processes and products against the competition – commonly on a cost basis – is a common practice in industry. Evaluation of the results within the competitive landscape is needed to take suitable decision for your own optimization approach. Aside from the internal use of LCA as an internal planning tool, another potential lies in connecting partners along the value chain. By collaborating on an LCA, suppliers and customers strengthen their relationship, gain valuable insights in markets and their success factors, and enhance an overall exchange of experiences. This fosters innovation. LCA is a business imperative today. Therefore successful LCA application is the main aim in industry (Baitz et al. 2012a).
As described earlier (Baitz et. al. 2012b), the topic of LCA needs proper implementation in the companies: It must be manageable. Management of tasks basically calls for two main aspects: measurable information and properly installed processes. What gets measured gets managed.
Proper management of life cycle aspects needs a shift in the mindset: From project thinking towards process thinking. Alignment of methods, data and communication throughout the company is an important step. But why restrict the degree of freedom in doing LCA in companies? Simply to gain quality of results, harvest the full potential of aligned application, communication of LCA results and to be able to measure company targets against consistent actuals.
Companies realize that an extended use of LCA can foster value creation, if implemented as part of a professional management process.
In (Baitz et. al. 2014) it is discussed that successful companies basically create value through sustainability in four discrete ways:
• In sales over increasing market share or new market entry by quantifying of benefits B2B or B2C or by promoting innovation and new products based on solid facts.
• Through cost reduction due to increase of value chain and operational efficiency as well as employee productivity.
• Risk mitigation like operational risk management or regulatory management which supports business continuity.
• The brand value is increased due to reputation as well as employee attraction and retention, which lowers new employee hiring costs.
To generate value on sustainability in a company, a platform combining IT technology (software and data exchange systems), content (adequate databases) and a positive user experience is key. The positive user experience is most efficiently implemented by an adequate and balanced share of technology and service support.
In sequence, companies want to determine more quickly what the social, environmental and economic tradeoffs of their products are (screening)? How they can provide more value by combining multiple data sources (scoping)? And how the companies may integrate sustainability management with existing management systems, such as ERP, PLM, CAD or supply chain management (scale)?
Along this approach of “Screen, Scope, Scale” many companies identify their specific pathways, then grow their project phase and finally begin to prepare an evolutionary step towards process implementation.