what is a Life Cycle Analysis or LCA?

Posted by smol on

Yes this certainly sounds like something from a biology textbook that you never quite understood… but it’s actually something we should all be taking more of an interest in.

A Life Cycle Analysis (also called a Life Cycle Assessment) is a study on the environmental impact of any product throughout its whole life cycle. From start to finish. Everything.

Which as you can imagine, is pretty involved!

how on earth can this all be measured? 

With an element of difficulty! 

Most LCAs are carried out on behalf of a company by outside sustainability experts. These are consultants with special skill sets in understanding areas like industrial processes, transport systems and human and ecological pollution.

It’s not an easy study to undertake because the LCA measures the entire impact of:

  • The extraction and processing of all raw materials/ingredients in a product

  • A product’s complete manufacturing process, including its packaging

  • All of its distribution, from suppliers through to final customer

  • The actual use of the product

  • Any recycling treatment of the product

  • The product’s final disposal

Not surprisingly, an LCA is costly and time-consuming. 

When they were first developed they could take years and millions of pounds. Luckily, costs and timeframes have decreased but they can still take tens of thousands of pounds and several months. 

However, they are as close to a gold standard of understanding the environmental effects of any product as researchers can currently get. 

So why are they important? 

Because it’s becoming increasingly necessary for consumers and producers to understand the toll that manufacturing takes on our planet. Brands are encouraged through an LCA to look into their product design and supply chains, and find opportunities to cut carbon emissions, pollution and waste, and reduce their use of water. 

it helps brands make sustainability decisions. 

Once you have your LCA you can identify the bits in the life cycle of your product which are the most resource hungry. Companies can discover areas where they can make improvements, for example looking for more local suppliers. The study helps to clarify goals such as carbon reduction and energy efficiency.

it discourages greenwashing.

With an LCA you have credible environmental data to justify any sustainability claims that you make. With the rise of greenwashing in recent years, both consumers and businesses need eco credentials to be validated by fact. The LCA is a great way to keep things really clear and transparent. 

a useful comparison between brands? 

A product LCA allows brands and customers to see how a product compares to a competitor. You can discover which product has the least environmental impact and check how one company is performing against another.

so has smol carried out an LCA? 

Yes we have!

Working with independent sustainability experts at eLoop we have completed Life Cycle Analysis on our laundry, dishwasher and surface sprays. Can add more once they are done?

These LCA’s have given us a clearer picture of our environmental impact and help us to make more informed decisions on our sustainability going forward.

For example….

We know that producing and distributing our laundry capsules cuts carbon by 35% compared to using a big brand, this figure rises to 46% for our dishwasher tablets and an amazing 91% for our multi purpose surface spray. 

The LCA for laundry capsules and dishwasher tablets also showed us just how much impact our household washing habits have on carbon emissions. For example, almost 70% of a laundry capsule’s carbon footprint occurs when it is used to do some washing. This is because hot water washes and the use of a washing machine require a lot of electricity. 

The way our laundry capsule is used once it’s inside our customer’s home is broadly outside of our direct control BUT we still wanted to try and have an impact here. This led to our washwell campaign, helping all of us to understand how simple changes like only running a machine once it's fully loaded, or on a cooler temperature setting, can positively cut back on carbon (and household bills!).

We believe our LCA’s help to tell the true story about the environmental impacts of smol products and are incredibly helpful tools in our journey towards sustainable cleaning for all.

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