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2009 Life Cycle Report

2009 Life Cycle Report

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 Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL)
Second Annual Conference-Workshop
March 27-28, 2009
 Integrative Thinking About Life Cycle Analysis: Promises & Limitations
Summary ReportThe promises and limitations of life cycle analysis (LCA) was the topic of a March2009 conference-workshop convened in Philadelphia by Penn/Wharton’s Initiativefor Global Leadership (IGEL). In recent years, as climate change and its attendantchallenges have increased public awareness of the environmental effects of everydaybusiness, LCA has seen a resurgence of interest and use as a methodological tool toevaluate and improve business practices, processes, and products. The followingarticle is a summary of the conference-workshop, which addressed four key topics:History and Current Practices of LCA, Valuing Water in Life Cycle Analysis, BestBusiness Practices and Current Challenges in LCA, and Policy Implications of LCA.
In opening the first session, Dr. Marilyn Yakowitz provided a brief perspective on LCA,recalling that the roots of life cycle assessment (also LCA) reach back 40 years to energyaudits and other attempts at quantifying resource costs and environmental consequences,as well as to concepts in the physical sciences of assessing materials and mass balance. Inthe early 1990s, several organizations began developing LCA
and life cycle management(LCM)
concepts and practices. Ideas about LCA were interwoven with other topics suchas extended responsibility for consumption and production patterns. The Organization forEconomic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations EnvironmentProgramme (UNEP) began small initiatives to explore the usefulness and practicality of 
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a systematic approach used to manage the potential environmentalimpacts of product and service systems. It is applied methodologically to build a quantitative inventory of environmental burdens or releases, evaluate the potential impacts of those burdens or releases, and consideralternatives to interpret the results and/or improve environmental performance. See ISO 14040.
Life cycle management (LCM) means making life cycle thinking and product sustainability operationalfor businesses through continuous improvements of product systems, as well as, supporting businessassimilation of, for example, integrated product policies. UNEP, LCM Guidebook.
life cycle approaches,
and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent expertsto work with the OECD in the early 1990s to promote thinking in the field.Today, with many progressive companies adopting life cycle approaches, Yakowitznoted, many would argue that LCA has come of age. Moreover, LCA requirements haveemerged from the public and private sectors. Both have attendant human and financialresource implications and raise concerns about consistency and methodology. LCArequires both resources and expert talent, and practitioners are in short supply.Dr. Yakowitz argued that life cycle approaches are beginning to drive institutionalchange in some cases and can lead to innovation and be a positive, integrative force. Aswell, LCA is proving helpful in examining and assessing processes and products. Whilethe initial impetus toward LCA arose from environmental interests, LCAs today are donefor strategy, design, marketing, and production reasons, as well as motivations connectedwith environment, health and safety. In some cases, LCA thinking is gaining wider CEOrecognition and moving from being solely the concern of sustainability and environmentdepartments. It appears that LCA is having an integrative role, fostering greater exchangeand collaboration across multiple divisions within companies.Penn/Wharton’s IGEL sought to address these and other issues concerning LCA duringits second annual conference-workshop. The following report summarizes some of thehighlights taken from the four panel discussions. Keynote speakers in addition to those onpanel include Anne Papageorge, Penn’s Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate;William Braham, Associate Professor of Architecture at Penn; Ted Emmett, Professor of Medicine at Penn and Deputy Director of the Center for Excellence in EnvironmentalToxicology; Harry Ischiropoulis, Research Professor of Pediatrics and Pharmacology atPenn; and Donna Cooper, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Policy and Planning.
Life Cycle Analysis – History and Current Practices
Panel one of 
 Integrative Thinking About Life Cycle Analysis
was co-moderated byWharton’s Marilyn Yakowitz, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions and anIGEL fellow, and Wendi Latko, Manager of Environmental Products and Services inEnvironment, Health and Safety at Xerox. The panel brought together five thoughtleaders in the field, each a prolific writer and actively engaged in key aspects of LCA.The group presented a soup-to-nuts overview of LCA, introducing critical issuesassociated with LCA, first principles derived from physical science and engineering,lessons gained from hundreds of real world LCA efforts with business and industry, thedesign and manufacturing processes, the energy sector, and finally, bottom-line concerns.Dr. James Fava of Five Winds International launched the panel, noting the growth of private requirements and regulations and the current roles of firms, governments, andinternational organizations in advancing life cycle approaches. He called attention to life
We use the term life cycle approaches to include LCA and other tools which may not be as quantitative asLCA but which attempt to examine environmental issue s over a product or service life cycle. See UNEP,“Why Take a Life Cycle Approach.”
cycle approaches that influenced product changes, marketing claims, customer interest,reductions in costs of ownership, and other areas that benefited from taking a life cycleapproach to inform decision making.Dr. Fava argued that life cycle thinking must be integrated from the top down into theday-to-day operations of the firm – from material selection, product design/development,portfolio/product alignment strategy, mergers and acquisitions strategies, and marketing.He stressed that life cycle management (LCM) can improve performance, communicateinformation, build capacity, and ultimately promote more sustainable production andconsumption patterns.Because LCM is a flexible yet integrated framework of techniques and procedures, itapplies to a wide range of businesses. In an example taken from product development,Dr. Fava said, life cycle thinking highlights solvent emissions from paints as a potentialenvironmental issue that product formulators can address by developing water-basedpaints and reducing overall emissions over the entire life cycle of the product – not just inthe manufacturing stage. In another example, procurement questionnaires have been usedto identify suppliers that take leadership roles to manage and improve environmental andsocial performance along the value chain. LCM includes a variety of management toolsand systems to better understand products’ environmental life cycle impacts, includingenvironmental or eco-risk assessment, eco-design, total cost of ownership, as well as lifecycle assessment.Dr. Robert Ayres of INSEAD conducted seminal work in the field before it had the LCAlabel. He emphasized first principles: the science, materials cycle, mass balance, energy,laws of physics and chemistry, industrial ecology, processes, and how to measure thecomponents involved.An LCA is a tool for making technology choices in order to avoid costly unintendedconsequences, Ayers said, describing a number of instances during which LCAs shouldhave been conducted but were not, at great cost to human health and the environment. Hecited the use of lead paint for interior walls, the use of tetra-ethyl lead as a gasolineadditive, the ethanol-from-corn subsidy program, and the use of lead pipes as plumbingfor drinking water as instances in which LCAs could have prevented lead ingestion,mercury contamination, and a myriad of problems from ethanol-from-corn subsidies,including groundwater pollution, deforestation, and high grain prices.Dr. Nabil Nasr of the Rochester Institute of Technology shared his experience from 21years of leadership in environmentally benign manufacturing, remanufacturing, andsustainable design, including integrated manufacturing studies, resource recovery, andother applied research. He defined sustainable production as the economical creation of goods and services using technologies and processes that are non-polluting, conserveenergy, and natural resources while being safe for employees, communities, andconsumers.

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