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Life Cycle Analysis

November 15, 2010

Sustainability is now becoming a top priority not just for environmental advocates but also for businesses and individuals alike.  Haven’t we all heard one time or another that we should be buying local products whenever possible?  More and more small business organizations and large conglomerates are focusing on manufacturing sustainable and ecofriendly products for their customers. This not only projects an environmental friendly image for the organization but also provides a marketing edge.  Having said that, manufacturing environmental friendly products is just one part in the whole life cycle of a given product.  The life cycle of a product from an environmental aspect, includes all the stages from raw materials extraction, manufacturing process, packaging, shipping, usage, and eventual end-of-life (disposal, reuse, or recycle).  In industry parlance, it is the environmental impact of a product, process, or service from ‘cradle (raw materials)-to-grave (end-of-life)’. As an example, the picture below from EPA gives the entire life cycle of the making of a CD or a DVD.  One can now understand the importance, from a sustainability perspective, of buying local products.

The term, “ Life Cycle Analysis” or “Life Cycle Assessment” (LCA) refers to the environmental impact of a product, process, or service that takes into account all the aforementioned stages of the life cycle. For a manufacturing organization, it can be a daunting and almost next to an impossible task in trying to evaluate the environmental impacts of their product’s, (or process or service) entire life cycle simply because most do not have the resources or the knowledge.  For this purpose, there are many types of software available in the market that have in-built environmental impact scores for each and every possible aspect that goes into analyzing the life cycle. The two prominent ones are Sima Pro and Gabi

.  NIST also has a LCA software, which is primarily focused on buildings.  Links providing more information on LCA can be found at:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_cycle_assessment
EPA: http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/lcaccess/index.html
Harvard school of Public health: http://www.sciencenetwork.com/lca/index.cfm

Posted by Shankar Srinivasan