A cradle-to-grave Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) involves a comprehensive analysis which scrutinises each step of a product’s life. The extraction of the raw material, the manufacturing process, it’s transportation, use and disposal/recycling process must all be considered. LCA considers the total emissions to nature (e.g. greenhouse gases) as well as the extractions from nature (e.g. iron ore) for a studied product or process.
Just because a material may seem more environmentally friendly, the process behind the product’s production may in fact release more greenhouse gases than its counterpart.
Strengths of an LCA
- Quantifiable: It provides means of evaluating the environmental impacts of a product/process.
- Comparable: Different options can be compared to find the least environmentally damaging solution.
- Motivational: Provides insight for consumers which motivates manufacturers to improve their products and process.
Weaknesses of an LCA
- Requires Judgement: Human error can lead to inconsistent comparisons and inconclusive results.
- Improper use: LCA results presented without appropriate documentation could be used as false marketing.
The phases of an LCA
It is important to first establish the goal and scope of the LCA. This is to clarify from the beginning why the study is being performed and what it includes. This is essential to ensure a conclusive analysis. The impact assessment is second and this involves evaluating the data collected. Finally, the impact assessment is where the data is interpreted and a conclusion developed.
The longevity of a product is highly important to an LCA. A product is considered to ‘emit’ less kgCO2 per year the longer it lasts. Take a T-Shirt for example. If it lasts you 6 years, the ‘embodied emissions’ is divided across those 6 years. This is better than it lasting just 2 years. With this in mind, Pathetic Brands offers quality products which will last you many seasons. They do not perform an LCA on their products but they do consider the product sustainability out of three; the environment, society and economy. Check out their Organic Cotton T-Shirts.