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Strategic Sustainability Uses of Life-Cycle Analysis

Strategic Sustainability Uses of Life-Cycle Analysis

Gaining a holistic view of product life cycles offers potential for innovation

In the last 20 years, life-cycle assessment (LCA) has grown from the academic exercise I learned as a grad student to an accepted decision making tool for sustainability management. A large number of companies, from Apple to Unilever, employ LCAs in their sustainability work, often at substantial expense. LCAs are data intensive, requiring a team of diverse professionals working collaboratively across organizational functions.

Given the effort and cost involved, what are the strategic benefits of LCA — and should you be employing them?

At its roots, LCA is a method to quantify total sustainability impacts — like resource use and environmental damage — over the entire life of a product, from “cradle to grave,” as they say. While there is informational value in the basic exercise, the real utility of LCA is comparison — that is, comparing one product’s sustainability impacts with another’s. These comparisons can be made with existing products, or they can be made with future innovations still on the drawing board. Thus, there is a “now” and a “next” of LCA use.

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Source: MIT Sloan Management Review Blog

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