Life-cycle Sustainability Assessment: The 6 Stages of Creating an Environmentally-friendly Product
Did you know, in order for your business to be considered sustainable, you must consider the whole life-cycle of your product or service? Life-cycle Sustainability Assessments are used to analyse the potential overall environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product or service’s life from the extraction of raw materials; the processing of raw materials in order to fabricate a product; the transportation and distribution of the product to the consumer; the use of the product by the consumer; to the disposal of the product's materials after its use. Life-cycle Sustainability Assessments have become a common decision-making tool for not only policymakers and industry, but also business owners and consumers. More and more consumers are also using Life-cycle Sustainability Assessments to inform their purchases, further encouraging businesses to consider the direct and indirect impacts the production, use, and disposal of their products have on the environment.
Life-cycle Sustainability Assessments can be used to understand the impacts of your product or service and compare designs as well as for communicating environmental credentials and performance of your small business to your customers. Now, life-cycle assessments can be complicated and a lot of detail can go into them, especially for large corporations. However, developing a simple Life-cycle Sustainability Assessment for your small business can not only make your business more attractive from a marketing point of view but also help comply with legal requirements and contributing to preserving the health of our planet.
Life-cycle Sustainability Assessment Stages & Definitions
At each stage, natural resources are consumed and emissions (to air, water and soil) are released into the environment. After carrying out a simple Life-cycle Sustainability Assessment for your small business, for any given product, these consumptions and emissions (inputs and outputs) are then related to global environmental impacts, such as climate change or plastic pollution. At each stage of your Life-cycle Sustainability Assessment consider the use of raw materials (including water), energy usage and the release of waste substances into the environment.
Designing products that reduce consumption across their entire life is the first step in a Life-cycle Sustainability Assessment. Product based on sustainable business practices can reduce operation costs and increase competitive advantage. The product design stage has the greatest influence on a product’s life and overall environmental impact. Environmental sustainability should be considered in the development process, along with the cost and quality of the product. QUESTIONS TO ASK: Are the features and functionality of my product as sustainable as they possibly can be? Are the raw materials and packaging options designed in the most environmentally-friendly way possible?
2. Extraction of Raw Materials
All the raw materials we need and use come from the Earth's crust, atmosphere, oceans or living organisms. Obtaining these materials has several impacts on the environment, including the use of limited resources or damaging habitats. QUESTIONS TO ASK: Are my resources sourced responsibly? Is there a way I can use bi-products or recycled materials instead? Is my business using resources that harm endangered species?
The manufacturing of products can have several detrimental impacts on the environment, especially to do with polluting waste from factories (emitted into rivers or the atmosphere). THINGS TO CONSIDER: Energy conservation, conserving or recycling of raw materials, measures to prevent air, water or soil pollution.
4. Distribution & Packaging
The transport of both the final product, and the raw materials used to make it, requires energy. The amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere varies according to the type of transport use and the length of the journeys that have to be made. The packaging of your product also uses up resources and can create unnecessary waste. THINGS TO CONSIDER: Simplifying packaging, efficient distribution, manufacturing products locally, use of low impact delivery vehicles.
5. Product Use
The impact of a product on the environment during its use depends on the type product. For example, once built, a wooden chair has very little environmental impact, unless it needs to be cleaned. On the other hand, a car has enormous environmental impact when in use. QUESTIONS TO ASK: Can my product consume less power or resources when in use? Is my product able to be maintained with minimal water and/or chemicals?
6. End of Life (Disposal or Recycling)
Most of the rubbish we throw away either ends up in landfill sites or is littered into land or ocean environments. Waste has several impacts on the planet, including the release of landfill gases such methane and carbon dioxide and harming animals when ingested (e.g. mircoplastics). Product (and packaging) that can instead be recycled, reused or composted. Although these process still use energy and often still produce waste substances, they have a smaller impact than disposing into landfill sites. Recycling allows for the materials that make up your product to be used again to make a new item; products and materials such as glass bottles or tin containers can be reused; and products made from plant-based materials can be broken down in home-compost or community systems (zero waste). QUESTIONS TO ASK: Is my product deigned to be easily recycled, reused or composted? Can it be made with lower amounts of environmentally harmful substances to minimise pollution run-off?