You can improve the environmental performance of your business by considering the impact your products or services have on the environment throughout their lifetime. You can use life cycle assessment (LCA) to assess the overall impact of your products or services.
What is a life cycle assessment?
An LCA is an environmental management tool that allows you to calculate the total environmental impact of a product or process, by collecting and evaluating data on the inputs and outputs of materials, energy and waste of a product over its entire life cycle.
For example, if your business manufactures washing machines, you should evaluate:
- the raw materials you need to make the machine - eg metal, plastic
- its design - eg whether it is energy and water efficient
- the resources you need and what waste is created during manufacturing and assembling
- how it is marketed - eg packaging
- how it is transported and sold - eg energy, fuel and vehicle emissions
- what resources are needed to use and maintain it - eg energy and materials
- what happens at the end of its life - eg reuse, recover, recycle or disposal
LCA allows you to consider these flows of energy and materials to and from the environment and so see what production stages have the most environmental impact. You can then identify ways to reduce the overall environmental impact of your product. For example, you may be able to:
- reduce the amount of raw materials needed
- use locally sourced, recyclable materials
- avoid using toxic materials
- use clean manufacturing technology to minimise emissions during manufacture
- improve the energy efficiency of the product
- use durable materials to increase product life
- reduce packaging
- reduce transportation
Benefits of a life cycle assessment
Assessing the impact of your products or services could help you to:
- increase your efficiency and productivity
- reduce your operating costs
- obtain business from government bodies and large businesses that require their business partners to manage their environmental impacts effectively
- enhance your reputation among staff, customers and the public
- increase the chance of securing funding to expand your business by demonstrating that your environmental impacts are well managed
It is not a legal requirement to use LCA in your business. However, the European Commission is encouraging the approach through its Integrated Product Policy (IPP). It is likely that LCA will be regulated in the future. Tax incentives could also be introduced to encourage you to apply LCA to your business activities.
How to assess the life cycle of products and services
You will need to collect, analyse and evaluate data on each phase of your product's life cycle.
You can choose to implement your own in-house assessment or you may prefer an externally certified assessment through ISO 14040 - which may be better recognised by other businesses and your customers. Find information about LCA tools based on ISO 14040 on the Europa website.
EcoSMEs provides information and tools to help you carry out a simplified LCA for your products and services. The website is a pilot project developed specifically for small businesses.
The pilot project includes the following business areas:
- electronic and electrical equipment
- urban furniture such as lampposts or letter boxes
- office use
- wood products