Life Cycle Assessment as Part of Strategic Sustainability for Product Design

Original Source:  Leyla Acaroglu 

“Life Cycle Assessment is a cornerstone of any sustainable design project. Here is a brief introduction into the heady world of choosing the right material, for the right application, for the smallest environmental impact.

As an adviser into sustainable design and production in product development, I always get asked the same question from designers wanting to create ‘greener’ products – ‘what’s the most environmentally friendly material?’

Green material selection has become somewhat of the holy grail of sustainable design – always talked about, but never really ever found – and from a life cycle assessment (LCA) perspective the answer to ‘what material should I use’ is always ‘it depends’.

Actually ‘it depends’ is the most commonly used response by an LCA practitioner and it’s not because they want to be annoying; it’s because it really does depend on a number of key considerations. Such as, what is the expected life of the product, how will it be used, what are the material parameters that the material should be able to withstand, is there an active recycling and recapture market for the material in the country the product will be used in, how long is the product likely to be used (no point using high value materials in a disposable product)? The list goes on.

Whilst this might seem a little overwhelming and a somewhat impossible task to get your head around (I can hear all the – ‘but how on earth I am going to know what the sustainable material is even if I answer all these questions?’). Rest assured there is help in navigating the path towards sustainable product design. Taking a life cycle approach is one of the most effective ways of gaining a clearer understating of all the pros and cons that a material or process has. It’s important to initially accept that there are really no truly sustainable materials because everything (and I mean everything) has to be extracted from nature at some stage. And, even if we moved to fully biodegradable alternatives for everything then we would quickly find ourselves in other problematic situations such as global food shortages…”

Getting a foot into Life Cycle Assessment

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