Sunday, 10 March 2013


Every life cycle of a product or service starts with the extraction and processing of raw materials, followed by manufacturing, transportation and use, and ends with waste management including recycling and final disposal. Each of these life cycle stages consumes non-renewable energy and resources and generates emissions, which result in a number of environmental and health impacts at different levels. 

Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) seeks to identify possible improvements to goods and services in the form of lower environmental impacts and reduced use of resources across the whole life of the product, called its whole life cycle. This begins with raw material extraction and conversion, then manufacture and distribution, through to use and consumption. It ends with re-use, recycling of materials, energy recovery and —following the stages of the Product Life Cycle— final disposal. 

The concept of Life Cycle Thinking integrates existing consumption and production strategies, preventing a piece-meal approach. Life cycle approaches avoid problem shifting from one life cycle stage to another, from one geographic area to another and from one environmental medium or protection target to another. Human needs should be met by providing functions of products and services, such as food, shelter, and mobility, through optimised consumption and production systems that are contained within the carrying capacity of the ecosystem of this planet. 

The key aim of Life Cycle Thinking is to avoid shifting an environmental effect from one area to another. This means minimising impacts at one stage of the life cycle, or in a geographic region while helping to avoid increases elsewhere; for example, saving energy during the use phase of a product while, at the same time, not increasing the amount of material needed to provide it. 

Life Cycle Thinking in policy making can help substantially towards a more coherent and less complex policy making and towards an efficient and effective improvement of products and production processes: Emission limits for regionally or globally acting emissions can be jointly addressed with general environmental target settings, while leaving it to the individual product operators which approach for improvement to implement. The Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP) employes such an approach. Equally, monitoring indicators such as on the impacts related to resource consumption, life cycle thinking provides the appropriate frame to meaningful, decision oriented information for policy makers. 

This video by Sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu forms part of a series of introductory tutorials on core concepts in strategic sustainability by Autodesk and it is very illustrative. Click and select 720p HD for better viewing. 

— Source: Autodesk Channel & Joint Research Centre 


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