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Life-cycle Analysis: a rude awakening for consumers and producers.
By Ashley Halligan, an analyst at Software Advice, an Austin-based company
Life-cycle analysis (LCA), also known as ecobalance and cradle-to-grave analysis, is a growing trend as consumers adopt a sense of responsible consumerism – that is, in consideration of the environmental impacts of their purchasing behaviors and in adjusting their behaviors to align more closely with public environmental goals.
LCA considers all stages of a product’s life: the necessary raw materials to create a product; the manufacturing and distribution processes; the eventual impact of consumer use; the environmental implications involved in repairing and maintaining a product; and, finally, the means of disposal or recycling. Keeping all stages in mind, LCA seeks to determine the most environmentally conscious decision based on design-to-end-life of any product.
More and more consumers are taking active roles by using their purchasing power to impact product creation and encourage organizations to manufacture products with the environment in mind. Companies like GoodGuide are making consumer information readily available with mobile apps allowing a buyer to scan a product to assess its environmental impact. With personalized features allowing a consumer to determine which environmental arenas they care most about, the apps can be specified to assess a product based on these predetermined “concerns,” of sorts.
The data provided post-scan includes everything from ingredients and environmental impact, to the manufacturer’s practices. The conscious consumer is now able to make an informed purchasing decision.
Given the emerging interest of consumers, corporations are being forced to take a look at their own start-to-end processes and address and tackle their own areas of inefficiency. There’s an array of efforts being made in many corporations at an organization-wide level. Major U.S. corporations in particular are making announcements almost daily of their improved operations.
Two major trends occurring within North American companies include 100-percent waste diversion–essentially finding the means to reuse, recycle, and redistribute all accumulated waste so that literally none winds up in a landfill. The other emerging trend is that of collecting recovered energy from resource recovery centers–essentially landfills tapped with methane wells collecting gas produced by rotting waste–then sent to a recovery center where that gas is converted into valuable, usable energy.
For example, General Motors–the largest automobile manufacturer in the United States–recently announced its 100th facility to become landfill free. Other major corporations like Clorox, Kraft Foods, and Procter & Gamble have also announced landfill-free facilities.
Experts from both organizations successful in diluting waste and organizations specializing in assisting organizations achieve zero-waste chimed in to offer suggestions to companies considering undertaking such a goal.
As for organizations demonstrating leadership in the resource recovery scene, several American companies are showing just how symbiotic these relationships can be – optimizing waste which otherwise had no additional purpose, and creating an efficient and economic energy supply for other facilities.
One notable initiative (among many) in the U.S. is that of Catawba County’s (North Carolina) EcoComplex – an industrial park, of sorts, whose methane wells collect enough energy to supply nearly 2,000 residences, sends remaining heat energy to Appalachian State University to convert into biodiesel, and meanwhile, an on-site pallet company collects a nearby lumberyard’s scraps to create pallets within their facilities – truly showing the symbiotic nature of such facilities.
What kinds of trends have you noticed at both consumer and commercial levels that demonstrate environmental responsibility? Please share your ideas, insights, and observations below.
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