Using LCA to Measure Sustainability | AIChE

Using LCA to Measure Sustainability


LCA has the unique distinction of being the only scientifically-based, comprehensive method to measure ?green.? While LCA should be augmented with environmental risk assessment and some measure of social assessment, it can be the cornerstone of a company's sustainability assessment.

But what is sustainability? If our definition is something like the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development:

?Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.?

it becomes clear that no company or product in today's environment is sustainable, except perhaps a few subsistence farmers in remote corners of the world. We are on a journey to sustainability, we're not there yet.

How do we assess products to get from here to there most quickly? Early studies of photovoltaic panel manufacture showed that panels would have to work at peak efficiency for as much as 6 years to create as much energy as was used to make the panels in the first place. (Corkish, 1997). Did this heavy upfront energy investment mean that we should have abandoned research in this area? Studies of reusable drinking cups show that the hot water used for washing brings the impacts of these cups close to single use cups (OVAM, 2006). Does this indicate that we should continue work to make the single use cups even less impactful, or is there another alternative? This presentation will explore several scenarios through possible future paths of development with the aim to broaden the discussion of the path to sustainability and the care needed to be sure we don't abandon the most viable paths before their true potential can be understood.


Corkish, Richard, ?Can Solar Cells Ever Recapture the Energy Invested in their Manufacture?? Solar Progress, (Australia and New Zealand Solar Energy Society) vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 16-17, 1997

OVAM , ?Comparative LCA of 4 types of drinking cups used at events,? OVAM, 2006