Moving Towards Better Collaboration
and Communication to Mainstream Life Cycle Management
As outlined before, it is now on the life cycle community to help making this vision come true. Key elements on this route will be achieved through:
• Better collaboration with each other across the globe as well as with other stakeholders
• Better communication to a wider set of stakeholders
Improve Collaboration Among the Life Cycle Community Across the Globe
“The community” as it is understood here is a group of people having a particular interest in common: the use of life cycle information. The community includes:
• Professionals who provide life cycle data and information to be used in internal processes or commercial or public databases
• Users of life cycle data and information as part of regular and existing decision making processes in business and governments
• Scientists and researchers who are actively working on developing new methods and approaches, methodological standards or advancements
• Life cycle “practitioners” who apply the tools developed above in specialist consultancies, in industry (often in EHS, sustainability, R&D departments), or in government (technical agencies like environmental agencies or policy makers)
• Life cycle advocates, who may not be able to undertake an LCA themselves, but who understand their utilization and importance
• Students in a variety of disciplines learning about how to apply life cycle thinking and approaches
Traditionally, global and local LCA networks have been dominated by academic stakeholders, but data providers, practitioners and users of life cycle data and information in industry and businesses are crucial. They are the ones who use the tools and methods to actually assess and interpret products' sustainability performance and thereby help establishing a scientifically more accurate decision-making basis for companies. As shown in Box 20.2, the LCM conference series is currently the only prominent place where companies and businesses get to exchange on their challenges and advancements. However, the LCM conference series is focused on Europe alone and organized only every 2 years, thus not well suited to facilitate a regular exchange. Other initiatives driving collaboration among the life cycle Community include:
• International life cycle networks such as the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative and the International Society for Industrial Ecology
• Local or regional life cycle networks for practitioners, such as ACLCA in the US, ALCALA in Latin America, or ALCAS in Australia
• Life cycle conferences, such as the before-mentioned LCM, SETAC case study symposium, Ecobalance, [avniR], LCA Food, PEF World Summit
• Online collaborative platforms such as the PRe LCA discussion list and various LinkedIn groups (e.g. on GaBi)
• Specific workgroups targeting technical subareas of the discipline such as Social LCA, Food LCA or Toxicity and Water issues
These many “circles of collaboration” tend to be extremely dynamic and productive, and in most cases very complementary. Many work on similar issues in different geographical spaces or with different types of stakeholders. They all have their place and are an important part of nurturing this constantly evolving field. However, they do not represent the community as a coherent and clearly identifiable stakeholder, but limited possibilities for exchange.
Consequently a global effort will be needed to bring these small groups together and thereby not only facilitate knowledge sharing and the establishment of links, but more importantly create a shared sense of belonging. In the end, a community only functions if its members can identify themselves with it.
Uniting the community behind a commonly shared set of ideas, principles or perspectives is thus a key step towards creating a community as such and thus lay the ground for collaboration and co-creation.
Box 20.2: A Practical Example: Making the Bridge Between Life Cycle Management Conferences
Since the first LCM was held in Copenhagen in 2001, this conference series has established itself as one of the leading conference series worldwide in the field of environmental, economical and social sustainability. It is now held every second year in Europe, with the seventh LCM held in Bordeaux, France. The unique feature of the LCM conference series is developing practical solutions for the implementation of life cycle approaches into strategic and operational decision-making in business, industry and beyond. The LCM Conferences bring together international decision-makers from science, industry, NGOs and public bodies. Almost half of the participants came from the private sector in recent gatherings. In this way it is clearly differentiated and complementary to more academic events such as conferences organized
by SETAC or the International Society for Industrial Ecology.
The LCM conferences provide an excellent start to transfer knowledge from the scientific world to real world applications by the private sector or governments. Whilst some uptake by the application side for the use of life cycle information is happening (e.g. building and construction, food and beverages, cars and other transports means, materials and chemicals, packaging, consumers goods, etc.), there is no real global mechanism to accelerate this awareness and uptake by the private sector and government to apply life cycle approaches as part of their normal practices. Also, given that the LCM conference series has no formal structure and is organized only every 2 years and by different host organizations, it is currently rather limited in its ability to function as the central space to facilitate ongoing and continuous exchange of ideas and challenges.
Establishing a link between a better-organized community and the LCM conference series would thus be a natural fit that could help to improve the transfer of knowledge, experience and resources. One way to achieve this could be to establish a small secretariat that could build links between LCM in Europe and other LCM related conferences taking place around the globe, such as those in China, Brazil and India, so that the conversations continue rather than being disconnected (LCM 2015).
The life cycle community will also need to actively engage and collaborate with colleagues working in related fields, such as climate change, toxicity and biodiversity, so that cooperation and collaboration result in joint efforts instead of “competing” for the same air time. In the end, life cycle concepts should be understood as a key element of the circular economy and the energy transition, and hence they should be seen as the backbone of any effort to address sustainability issues, be it climate change, resource efficiency or other issues.
The community will also need to collaborate more closely with decision makers in industry and government to co-develop life cycle management solutions that respond to their needs, as will be demonstrated in Sect. 3.2.