General Information on the Principles

In an effort to streamline the life cycle community’s outreach efforts and messages to other communities, a set of ‘Key Principles for Promoting Life Cycle Approaches’ has been developed by a number of FSLCI members and reviewed by participants of the communication’s workshop that took place on the 3rd of September in Bordeaux.

Our Board of Directors recently decided to publish this first draft version of the principles in an effort to start a debate about them not only among our members, but the larger life cycle community. Please note, this is a first draft which will be revised over the next few month to come. If you would like to provide feedback on the principles draft, please feel free to engage with us by commenting below!

Key Principles for Promoting Life Cycle Approaches

The Global Life Cycle Community has developed and agreed to promote the following foundational principles that assist the development of quality life cycle information and its use for reliable decision support.

While there is an overall necessity to reduce the global use of natural resources and thus change consumption patterns altogether, the demand for goods and services will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Hence enhancing the environmental sustainability [1] performance of goods and services, while also meeting social needs, is a key requirement towards a sustainable and resilient society.

Every product and organization [2] causes environmental [3] and social [4] impacts in its life cycle [5] that affect both ecosystems and human health in various ways. Typically, changes in one life cycle stage affect impacts in another. It is thus paramount to base sustainability decisions on a complete life cycle perspective to avoid burden shifting.

Considering all relevant environmental impacts and social implications should be integral components of policy objectives and implementation [6], to help avoid a shifting of burdens across impacts, compared with those approaches based on more limited considerations.

Life cycle approaches support the notion of a ‘circular economy’ thereby identifying opportunities for preventing losses of value from materials flows whilst providing for the needs of consumers.

Environmental and social impacts of products and organizations must be identified and quantified in a standardized, transparent and comparable manner, to identify most impactful intervention points and to ensure that decisions can be made on valid, comparable alternatives. This is also necessary to ensure that improvements in environmental or social performance do not result in a reduction of the functional performance of the products.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the only standardized international tool for identifying and quantifying the various environmental impacts of products and organisations in a common framework. It provides a robust, scientific evidence basis for decision-making, policy formulation and implementation. While LCA adopts a life cycle perspective, not all approaches based on a life cycle perspective are LCAs. For example, a life cycle greenhouse gas analysis is a single-issue assessment which accounts only for air emissions that contribute to global warming impacts.

The current practice of Environmental and Social LCA does not include all environmental or social consequences of products or organizations, nor does it quantify risks. Nor is LCA a cost analysis tool. Hence, where necessary and appropriate, current LCA results should be augmented with information obtained through other assessment methods. The importance and prioritization of impacts identified through LCA methodologies also depends on value systems and cultural, geographical and political factors.

Decisions by companies, governments, and consumer should be based on an understanding of the overall environmental and social impacts of products. Environmental Product Declarations and Footprints, as well as Ecolabels and Ecodesign of products, therefore need to be developed with quality life cycle based data, supporting informed choices and help changing consumption patterns to improve the living conditions of humans and the ecosystem as a whole.

Life Cycle Approaches address global supply and consumption chains, and the decisions of a whole panoply of stakeholders determine the real impacts of products on our planet and our society. It is thus paramount that business, policy makers, experts and the general public collaborate both locally and across the globe to make change.

[1] Environmental sustainability is being specified in order to reinforce the idea that it refers to approaches that assure humans and biological systems remain productive and flourish in the long-term, rather than an organization being sustained fiscally.

[2] “Organization“ is defined as a social unit of people that is structured and managed to meet a need or to pursue collective goals.

[3] “Environmental impacts“ refer to impacts on humans and the natural environment that are caused by the extraction or use of natural resources and emissions to the environment.

[4] “Social impacts“ refer to the effect of an activity on the social fabric of the community and well-being of the individuals and families

[5] “Life cycle“ means consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from the extraction and transportation of raw materials, through material and product design, production, distribution and consumption of goods, repair, remanufacturing and reuse schemes, to waste management and recycling.

[6] Policy making is not only a function of government but occurs in both public and private sectors.

1 Comment
  1. Ivo Mersiowsky 3 years ago

    These principles are a great summary of the salient points. I especially appreciate drawing attention to consumption patterns (#8) as well. To my view, it is very important to question the simplistic notion of “more sustainable products”. Rebound effects may render this strategy moot; With demand and consumption on the rise, “greener products” will not save our hides. We need to be cognizant that consumption levels in countries like my own are way too high — no incrementally better product will solve this. So even #1 needs to comprise consumption patterns. Once we crave less, we could replace particularly impacting product systems with services (dematerialisation). Since all these considerations take time and energy, LCA is an essential guide where to focus our attention and really make progress.

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