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Life cycle thinking

LCT is an approach that recognises our choices' impacts on our natural environment.
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Before exploring life cycle assessment (LCA), we will first introduce life cycle thinking (LCT).

LCT is an approach that recognises our choices’ impacts on our natural environment.

It describes the need to assess the burden and benefits associated with different products, sectors or projects. It adopts a holistic perspective, from raw material extraction to end-of-life.

It can be used to support:

  • Increasing awareness of the synergies of our choices
  • Making choices for the longer term
  • Improving entire systems, rather than burden-shifting (by avoiding decisions that fix one problem but cause another unanticipated problem)
  • Reaching informed selections – not necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices, but deliberate ones

Life cycle thinking is crucial in establishing the value and protocol for creating more sustainable forms of design, production, and consumption.

Different stakeholders may approach LCT in different ways.

Consumers

  • Seek to buy from initiatives that are explicit about environmental impacts
  • Seek to purchase products that provide guidance on the use, care, recycling or disposal, including firms with extended producer responsibilities
  • Seek to buy from products that support environmental conservation

Governments

  • Help prioritise programs and projects that instil environmental performance
  • Make policies more consistent among consumers, producers, suppliers, retailers
  • Promote products that accurately reflect cost of environmental impact
  • Introduce take-back systems to establish a recycling-friendly environment and economy

Businesses

  • Invest in improving environmental performance of products across the entire life cycle stages
  • Conduct studies to measure the potential impacts of various product options
  • Seek to enhance their image and value of their brands through environmental labelling
  • Seek for new ways of marketing and sales to communicate and interact with customers
  • Share life cycle information to identify risks and opportunities for improvement

LCT helps us recognise opportunities, balance opportunities and risks, and make choices that drive a sustainable world. Overall, it should promote a more sustainable rate of production and consumption and help optimise our limited financial and natural resources.

While LCT is the qualitative aspect of life cycle approach, life cycle assessment (LCA) studies provide a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the risk and opportunities associated with various choices. The focus of this course is providing a practical introduction to LCA studies related to the environment.

In other contexts, LCT and/or LCA can be applied to assess social or economic impacts. (These are beyond the scope of this course.)

Share your thoughts

How would you describe your own approach or attitude towards LCT? Are there any additional uses you (or anyone) might have for it? Share some thoughts in the comments section below.

References

Mancini, L., Leccisi, E., Patinha Caldeira, C., & Sala, S. (2023, Nov. 3). Proposal for a sustainability framework for energy technologies. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

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Foundations of Life Cycle Assessment Practice

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