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Intro to Lifecycle Assessment

Lifecycle assessment (LCA) is an endless topic.

First of all, let's agree on one fact: everything has a lifecycle.

It consists of raw materials extraction, manufacturing, use phase, and end-of-life. And while something or someone is having a cycle, it generates an impact at every stage. In simple words, lifecycle assessment is the process of evaluating the impact of the product on the environment, economy and society.

Here, at Sustained, LCA is a vital piece of the puzzle for our scoring framework.

As you may have heard, LCA is not an exact science; it's very approximate. There are a lot of limitations at every stage, some data is missing, and scientists work hard to collect the needed information to close the gap. We are doing our best to represent the most recent results and be on top of things.

Today, our primary focus is on the food industry.

We have validated numerous databases and methods most suitable for our use case. There are many options in terms of software and databases, but many projects were dropped or closed because of a lack of financial support or interest. Most of them took their beginning in academia or were initiated by governmental institutions. We were looking for something still actively developed.

I will guide you through our choices.

It was quite a challenge to choose the most suitable database for the food industry. Our goal was to get as close as possible to the whole supply chain of any edible product, from the farm to the consumer's dining table.

As you can imagine, there are many options, and I won't go through all of them as I can write a separate story about it. We have chosen the two most promising projects: ecoinvent and Agribalyse. Both are active and ongoing projects. Agribalyse is free, food-oriented and supported by the French government. On the other hand, ecoinvent is paid and covers 16,000 unique datasets with the impacts for different industries from cradle to waste management. Agribalyse uses ecoinvent's data as an input for many products lifecycles assessment.

Now we have all the needed input regarding how much energy is required to produce, for example, 1 kg of carrots.

How can we measure this impact and compare it with other products?

Yes, exactly, the LCA methodology has to be chosen. There are over 40+ different types of LCA methods available, so we analysed most of them. We have chosen the ReCiPe 2016 midpoint (H) LCA method.

As with the databases, we prioritised the methods with the ongoing research and development. As I mentioned, LCA is an inexact science, and there are a lot of changes discovered, so we need something that's going to be revisited and updated.

The ReCiPe was developed in 2008 by RIVM National Institute for Public Health, the Environment, CML, PRé Consultants and the Radboud University Nijmegen on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. In 2016, the ReCiPe method was revised thoroughly, and the scientific paper was published. The main goal of the ReCiPe method is to translate the inventory results into a specific indicator score.

These scores show the relative severity of an environmental impact category at two levels:
  • 18 midpoint indicators;
  • 3 endpoint indicators.

We have chosen the midpoint indicators as it was easier to integrate with our scoring framework.

Today, we assess the following seven categories:
  • Climate Change (Global warming)
  • Land Use
  • Water Use (Water consumption)
  • Fossil Fuel Use (Fossil resource scarcity)
  • Soil Pollution (Terrestrial ecotoxicity)
  • Ocean Pollution (Marine ecotoxicity)
  • Human Health (Human carcinogenic toxicity)

And below, you see the result of everything explained above:

Happy shopping!

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