Life cycle assessment

Life cycle assessment [LCA] is a method that evaluates a product or service’s prospective impact on the environment. This is undertaken by assessing each stage of a products life, from extraction and treatment of raw materials, to manufacture, packaging, transportation, use and end of life or disposal. Designers are able to use LCA to evaluate the impact a product or service has or would have on the environment and therefore influence the decisions made about materials, manufacturing processes, methods of use, and disposal. The aim is to decrease negative impact on the environment by assisting designers, manufactures and users to make more informed decisions in regard to the products or services they are developing.

Contributor: Mary Millsteed, 2013

The KeepCup is a barista standard reusable cup commissioned by Abigail and Jamie Forsyth. During the design process of the KeepCup, LCA was used as a tool to measure the environmental impact of one KeepCup per year in comparison to 365 disposable paper cups. Global warming potential, land use, water use, land fill and embodied energy were all taken into account. Through the LCA study it was found that within a year there would be a 66-99% reduction in environmental impact, justifying the need for the KeepCup.

Contributor: Mary Millsteed, 2013

Chaffee and Yaros from Boustead Consulting & Associates conducted an LCA report on three types of grocery bags; polyethylene plastic bags, compostable plastic resin bags and 30% recycled paper bags. All three stages of the bags life cycle - manufacture, distribution and disposal, were taken into account by observing energy use, raw material use, water use, air emissions, water effluents, and solid wastes from each type of grocery bag. The use of LCA was successful in this case as the study conclusively demonstrated that “eco-friendly” bags have no real environmental benefit over standard polyethylene plastic bags.

Contributor: Mary Millsteed, 2013

Levi Strauss conducted an LCA on their denim jeans. Although this study was comprehensive and showed them areas in which they could save energy, minimal changes were made in the company’s infrastructure. Instead Levis started a campaign in order to educate their consumer on ways to minimise energy use during the life of their purchase. Recommending that cold machine washes and letting the product dry naturally would increase the lifespan of the denim whilst decreasing the customer's energy use.

Contributor: Rik McKenzie, 2013