iPoint Blog
Martina Prox at ifu Hamburg stand, e!Sankey poster in background

Life Cycle Management 2011 – Personal Field Report

Last week I was at the LCM 2011 in Berlin – the biggest conference of its kind, with nearly 600 attendees. For sure, Life Cycle Management has great importance for today’s business. But taking a closer look at the attendance list clearly shows: it is still a topic driven and influenced by the academic sector.

The idea of a product lifecycle is nothing new. It was in the late sixties, when Raymond Vernon established the lifecycle thinking of a product, from the development to degeneration. What has changed since then is the understanding of the life cycle and, especially in the last few years, the tasks within the life cycle management.

From Graph to Cycle

When I studied at university, I learned about the “Vernon Curve”. This knowledge now seems outdated, because it ignores the challenges of today.  Even in business administration, where the “Vernon Curve” comes from, there is an agreement on the necessity to think in a circular way. Circular in this context emphasizes the importance of recycling and resource efficiency, not only in an environmental but also in an economic way. This thinking has an effect on all phases of the product life cycle.

Customer-driven Sustainability

The need for sustainable business is mainly driven by the consumers. The sustainability of products is now one of the most important criteria for the buying decision. More than one in two consumers expects concrete declarations on a company’s climate relevant emissions, as current studies show (e. g. Globescan). Measuring the environmental impact, LCA is the core of LCM processes.

Lack of High Quality Data

We now focus one of the main issues discussed at the LCM 2011: the question of data. To keep things short, there is often a lack of relevant high-quality data which enables developing a meaningful LCA. This especially applies to the data concerning the pre-production stages. For many, the ecoinvent database solves that problem. But still, this database cannot cover all materials needed by the several consultants or companies all over the world. As the presentations on practical LCAs have shown, the discussion of means, methods and data mainly sticks to an academic point of view. More important is the question of how to use LCA results.

How to Use LCA Results

Comparative LCAs can be used as a planning instrument for choosing the most sustainable and efficient way of producing, building, etc. But as argued above, using LCAs as a communication instrument might be much more important for companies, especially in the production sector.

Labeling or The Story of Confusion

The topic of eco labels in its different forms was another main issue being discussed very strongly at the LCM. Due to the lack of standards, there seems to be an uncontrolled growth of labels. Let us take Great Britain, for instance. At the moment there are more than 300 general “eco-labels” on the market, from the organic standard to food miles. Besides that, there are numerous labels for product carbon footprints. The efforts to avoid confusion include thinking about summarizing standards and systems.

Investment Under Uncertainties

Does all that mean not to deal with the whole topic of LCM and LCA? No, definitely not. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Gaining experiences and first mover advantages by showing a modern and sustainable thinking is the current chance for successful companies. By providing eco-labels or a carbon footprint on certain products improves the companies’ image certainly and will increase sales very likely. The next, step after such a general labeling effort, is declaring how the carbon footprint has been reduced. This declaration can be shown with a progress label, for instance.

Stay one Step Ahead

Even if currently, there is little agreement in the academic sector, the importance of Life Cycle Management will further increase. Investing today means being the first to benefit tomorrow. Belong to the ones who are one step ahead with your environmental footprint!

Picture © LCM 2011. More pictures? See official LCM image gallery.
The picture shows the ifu Hamburg stand at LCM with a nice and fancy orange poster of the Sankey diagram software e!Sankey.

ascheibner

4 comments

  • Personally I liked very much the keynote speech of Ernst Ulrich von Weizäcker during the LCM! He encouraged the society to go for at least a factor 5 improvement in ressource productivity using the analogy to productivity improvements which have been reached in the last 150 years since industrialization started.

  • Your noticing LCA being “a topic driven and influenced by the academic sector” reminds me of the following statement:
    “It might be that whereas LCA was developed mainly by chemists and engineers, LCM development needs the collaboration of social scientists and economists.”
    The call for applying LCA methods to economic practice, hence a shift towards life cycle management, was published in April in the Industrial Ecology magazine of Yale University:
    “From Life Cycle Assessment to Life Cycle Management”
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2011.00338.x/abstract