Understanding the LCA Community Itself
To develop our understanding of the LCA community, especially the corporate LCA practitioners, we organized a number of workshops in various countries in 2012 and again in 2014.
For this research, we worked together with a number of business partners of our organization in Europe. We asked them to invite their corporate clients to come together for an open discussion on how they see the future of LCA, what their challenges are, and how they cope with them. Of course we also asked them what kind of features and tools would help them most. The meetings were organized in early 2012 and throughout 2014 with seven partners; see Table 9.1.
The majority of the participants were LCA experts working in large multinationals but there were also some researchers and consultants present.
The Overarching Message
Many corporate LCA experts are telling us they have difficulty communicating their findings to the internal stakeholders. One of the problems is that the results are not well understood by their colleagues in marketing, research and product development. It is as if they operate in different worlds. LCA results do not really connect to what their internal clients want to know. This means many are seeking ways to drastically simplify results or translate them into guidelines.
Getting the results out and understood is a problem, getting data in is another big problem. Often other departments are not really motivated to supply data. Getting access to data held by the purchasing department, for example, can be very difficult as they do not see the benefits.
The general picture that emerges is that the LCA department finds it difficult to connect and to be relevant, while at the same time companies have committed themselves to improve the sustainability of products in a rational way. This seems to imply that there is a disconnect between the ambitions of the companies and what the LCA experts can offer – do they speak a different language? Or is there another reason that they are not able to connect? This is an intriguing question. This conclusion of a gap between the LCA department and the business was also supported by the results of a quantitative research amongst 274 LCA practitioners in 28 countries conducted by PRé in the second half of 2014.
What's Next: How to Tackle This Chasm?
As a message to the LCA community and the researchers: the bottleneck is not in the lack of sophisticated tools and methodologies. Companies need LCA departments and practitioners that are better connected with other departments and show genuine interest in alternative approaches. The solution is not to make better LCAs but get a better understanding of what marketing, design, research, purchasing and other departments need.
Based on the round tables, quantitative research and existing scientific research (Frankl 2002) we developed a five-step approach to make the LCA department more relevant:
1. Become a champion for LCA
2. Assure long-term management commitment to sustainability
3. Link LCA with business objectives
4. Find a shared language
5. Jointly explore new applications
These five steps will help LCA departments and practitioners to increase their impact in their company.