The Democratization of LCA
Thinking back, the term carbon footprint was still in its infancy as recently as five years ago and frankly, at that time, I didn’t think it had much staying power. I felt like it was a narrow view and only scratched the surface of the real climate change problems the world was facing. What the term and the work associated with carbon footprinting and lifecycle analysis have come to mean, five years later, is so much more than I could have ever imagined.
Today, we talk about “carbon” like we talk about “Kleenex” — as a shortcut to mean almost anything to do with environmental impacts. We discuss LCA as a profession, a deliverable, and as a means to measurably improve operational efficiency and relationships with suppliers. And we debate the value of all kinds of metrics (even qualitative ones) and the standards that are being developed around the world, as if they’ve always been a part of the discussion.
Mainstreaming the Science for Business
One of the issues that I am passionate about is for the science of LCA to be brought into the mainstream. While it’s fabulously exciting and intellectually stimulating to debate the details of LCA and its related metrics, it’s not going to make any practical difference to anyone if only the scientists understand what it’s all about.
I feel strongly about bringing the science of LCA into the business world where it could be used by non-experts, for practical purposes, in a company’s daily operations. If a company’s leadership can get their heads around what a carbon footprint will tell them about their business, they’re more likely to invest in the necessary work. And then they’re more likely to value the outcomes it produces. And then, most importantly, they’re more likely to act on the results by making measurable improvements to their operations and supply chain. This has always been our goal.
To help companies reach that goal, I’m reassured to witness the evolution of sustainability metric tools. Simplicity of use alongside accuracy is key and should never be compromised. Tools featuring screens with lots of data in teeny tiny fonts may look scientific but it is also intimidating and complicated to the non-expert. These pages and pages of numbers can be represented by “Super Numbers” that are statistically proven to be accurate and are much easier for business leaders to manage when seeking to innovate and create efficiencies with LCA.
Equal Access to Useful Information
The other evolution that fuels my passion about useful and usable LCA is the online approach. The web provides the perfect environment to build simple screens that are smart and that can guide users through the flow of a lifecycle. And the web provides a platform that travels with us. It avoids the need for loading something on a physical laptop and passing it from person to person. And it allows for multiple people with multiple needs to access the same metrics to answer very different questions.
If only the most highly trained among us can run LCAs and understand and deliver the results, can we realistically believe that this will make any sort of real dent in the enormous challenges facing business on a global scale? If Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had never developed the Windows and Mac operating systems that were designed for the everyman, how many of us would have sat in front of a computer screen and typed in computer code in order to format a spreadsheet or put together a report.
For carbon footprinting, applications with easily accessible and credible data housed in a tool with user-friendly screens and functions will increase the implementation of LCA, especially by food and consumer good products manufacturers. I think of it as taking the best of the scientific approach to LCA and making it accessible to everyone. This allows companies – regardless of size or resources – to better understand their impacts in order to make intelligent decisions to reduce them. Today’s smart and user-friendly LCA tools will bridge the gap between science and business. These news tools are democratizing LCA.
Sara Pax is the president of Bluehorse Associates, a developer of environmental sustainability metrics solutions specialized in the food and beverages industry featuring the Carbonostics suite of smart, web-based applications for carbon & energy accounting, lifecycle assessment and product carbon footprinting. Visit: www.carbonostics.com
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