The Democratization of LCA

by | Aug 1, 2012

Thinking back, the term carbon footprint was still in its infancy as recently as five years ago and frankly, at that time, I didn’t think it had much staying power. I felt like it was a narrow view and only scratched the surface of the real climate change problems the world was facing. What the term and the work associated with carbon footprinting and lifecycle analysis have come to mean, five years later, is so much more than I could have ever imagined.

Today, we talk about “carbon” like we talk about “Kleenex” — as a shortcut to mean almost anything to do with environmental impacts. We discuss LCA as a profession, a deliverable, and as a means to measurably improve operational efficiency and relationships with suppliers. And we debate the value of all kinds of metrics (even qualitative ones) and the standards that are being developed around the world, as if they’ve always been a part of the discussion.

Mainstreaming the Science for Business

One of the issues that I am passionate about is for the science of LCA to be brought into the mainstream. While it’s fabulously exciting and intellectually stimulating to debate the details of LCA and its related metrics, it’s not going to make any practical difference to anyone if only the scientists understand what it’s all about.

I feel strongly about bringing the science of LCA into the business world where it could be used by non-experts, for practical purposes, in a company’s daily operations. If a company’s leadership can get their heads around what a carbon footprint will tell them about their business, they’re more likely to invest in the necessary work. And then they’re more likely to value the outcomes it produces. And then, most importantly, they’re more likely to act on the results by making measurable improvements to their operations and supply chain. This has always been our goal.

To help companies reach that goal, I’m reassured to witness the evolution of sustainability metric tools. Simplicity of use alongside accuracy is key and should never be compromised.  Tools featuring screens with lots of data in teeny tiny fonts may look scientific but it is also intimidating and complicated to the non-expert. These pages and pages of numbers can be represented by “Super Numbers” that are statistically proven to be accurate and are much easier for business leaders to manage when seeking to innovate and create efficiencies with LCA.

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