Life Cycle Assessment Part 2: Reduce Your Product’s Environmental Impact

By Giles Matthews.

Any well-adjusted person could quickly reason that by reducing a product’s environmental impact it will also correlate in sustainable financial benefits. And these benefits are unrelated to any environmental measures.  My job in the following short paragraphs is to reveal how to soften the decision-making tissue damage to those, namely middle management, who are allowing this work to take place.

Reducing environmental impact does not strike business folk as good business and they will try to manoeuvre you from your mindset, such is their conviction. Their arguments will well and truly be oozing from a middle management fissure in their brain that is mouthing the words ‘expensive’ with a toothy alacrity.  The benefits need to be presented in a strict business report with the obligatory Executive Summary.  The need to engage in the grimy task of business reporting is important. It’s a necessary evil to achieve your outcomes, by shifting the outcome or result to a management ‘success’ through prudence or acumen.  And the best way to tell the world about your hard-earned gains is to use triple bottom line business reporting. [1]

Some key points to remember when reviewing your product through its lifecycle are:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Substitute
  • Localise
  • Durability
  • Disassembly
  • Product Stewardship

In coming SRD blog posts I will discuss each one in a little more detail.

REDUCE:  Any attempt to reduce the negative social impact of your product is advised.

Social impact is often the forgotten cousin of sustainability. Designers and product managers relinquish product usability & their ethics for reducing the volume of the product by a few percentages in order to improve the bottom line.  An improvement in social benefits can have dramatic market share results and present all round improvements to a category. This reinforces the product’s profitable long-term not just short-term profitability.  It is a significant segment in the process of triple bottom line reporting.

You need to measure not only the profits & losses but also the social impact of your product:

  • Are people enslaved /not paid /poorly represented to make any part, additive or material of your product along its lifecycle?
  • Does your product lifecycle use child labour?
  • Does your product lifecycle involve criminal activity? – bribery /corruption
  • Does your product use resources that cause deforestation or displacement of wildlife in its lifecycle?

Learn about the impact up and down the product lifecycle and attempt to reduce the negative impacts where possible.

Become a preferred supplier with your new ethical stance. Large multinational corporations such as Wal-Mart [2] and P&G place strict guidelines on suppliers to improve their ethical standing as a company. The benefits of being a preferred supplier are easy to calculate. Improve your reputation and brand with the new responsible outlook to your product and range.  Where stakeholder engagement & management is crucial, particularly in community based businesses, such as the resource/agricultural industry, a ‘social license’ is imperative.  The improved social position of your business will improve investor interest[3]

The negative impacts of socially irresponsible products are subtle and often more difficult to change as they are sinister by nature and ingrained systematically to deceive.  Unfortunately the alleviation of one social malady leaves an open market for incredulous operators to move in.  There is the added responsibility to lift the poor performing suppliers or lifecycle scenarios to an acceptable standard, the product quality benefits and standards of quality will flow from this effort and investment. [4]

Next SRD Blog Post: I will chip away at the significant tip of the (shrinking metaphorical) iceberg helping you reduce your environmental impact.

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