Why (and How) You Should Act on Product Sustainability

Jun 13, 2022 1:35 PM ET
Blog

The global community is more climate-conscious than ever before. News about “forever chemicals” and the Pacific garbage patch has helped to create stark awareness of the long-lasting environmental impact of durable goods and product packaging.

This awareness has led to some striking changes in consumer behavior. People want sustainable products.

And it isn’t only consumers driving this demand. Investors are also seeking out organizations with proven sustainability records. Demand has reached a point where the Security and Exhange Commission (SEC) recently proposed a regulation that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their carbon footprint and related climate risks.

All in all, product sustainability is an issue that carries opportunity – and increasing financial risk – for modern organizations.

One of the services available to companies seeking a proactive sustainability solution is a product life cycle assessment.

"Optimizing costs is an established process in economic activities, the new challenge is the reduction of environmental emissions of products and services or even systems. Product life cycle assessment, as a tool for evaluating environmental impacts, provides a basis for planning a decarbonization roadmap.” DI Fabian Harb, Consultant at denkstatt Austria.

Goals for Your Product Life Cycle Assessment

While risk reduction and financial sustainability are both important factors, it’s best to have a concrete goal when conducting a product life cycle assessment.

Meeting consumer demand

Whether the consumer is the general public or another business, customer demand for sustainable products means an assessment may be necessary to remain competitive in the market.

When it comes to B2B sales, businesses that are working on reining in their scope 3 emissions will make the easiest improvements first: purchasing sustainable products for use within their business or production.

Regulatory compliance

The number of environmental and climate-related financial disclosure regulations is increasing around the world. With these new regulations come updated compliance requirements. Understanding the regulations and what standards you need to meet can help focus the assessment.

Alignment with company goals

Sometimes the best reason to do something is because you believe it’s the right thing to do. With the world urgently working to mitigate the climate crisis, many organizations are simply opting to work toward greater sustainability out of moral obligation.

The Life Cycle of a Product

While every product category has its own set of risk factors, there are stages of the life cycle that are universal to all products.

Here’s an overview of what that cycle looks like.

Raw material extraction & processing

Raw materials are the base components of products derived from the natural environment. The extraction process could involve processes like mining, drilling, fishing, agriculture and forestry..

Raw materials require processing before they can be used in the manufacture of a final product.

What an assessment looks at: operations, waste produced, waste disposal, environmental impact of material extraction, by-products

Manufacturing

Manufacturing brings together a variety of materials to form a finished product. Depending on the product, this could involve a handful of materials or a wide range of items that may have already gone through a primary manufacturing process.

Product packaging also falls within the scope of manufacturing.

Consumer awareness of packaging waste is a major driver behind purchasing decisions. A recent McKinsey study found that 70% of consumers surveyed would pay more for a product that was packaged sustainably.

What an assessment looks at: Energy consumption, pollution, and waste material disposal.

Transportation

Transportation is a step that repeats over and over throughout the life cycle of a product. From movement of raw materials to delivery of finished goods, most products see a fair number of miles.

What an assessment looks at: Energy efficiency of transportation vehicles.

Usage

Consumer use of products isimpacted by product design and consumer education – both well inside the scope of manufacturer responsibility.

What an assessment looks at: Expected lifespan of product, waste produced through typical use of the product, factors involved in maintenance of the product, energy efficiency of a product or energy consumption during use-phase (very important!)

Waste disposal

When the product reaches its end-of-life, it has to go somewhere. Waste options include recycling, reusing, disposal in landfills, or a combination of all three. Also very important is municipal waste incineration (in EU more important than landfill), and for some products (materials) industrial energy recovery, maybe you can also name composting here (its not that important, but regarding bio-materials)

What an assessment looks at: Environmental impact of waste materials as they break down over time, disposal method, energy used for disposal or recycling. Also: benefits of recycling materials, energy recovered with municipal waste incineration

What Will I Learn from a Product Life Cycle Assessment?

A product life cycle assessment provides organizations with the information they need to meet their stated goals.

The Sustainability Consultants at Inogen Alliance work with clients to help them see the full scope of their products’ environmental impact. The assessment includes areas of improvement that will make products more sustainable.

We have worked with clients from across industries, meeting a variety of unique needs. Contact us to start a conversation about your product life cycle assessment needs

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