12 Mar 2010

Lifecycle Thinking: reducing the environmental impact of products

Taking a life cycle perspective is vital to initiate and drive forward environmental improvements
Taking a life cycle perspective is vital to initiate and drive forward environmental improvements and economic gains
© Esa Oksman

The European Commission today launched a guide for policy-makers and business on how to assess the environmental impact of products. The guidance is part of the Commission's drive to promote more sustainable consumption and production patterns and reduce Europe's environmental footprint.

The products we buy and use everyday contribute to our comfort and well-being. However, they also contribute to environmental problems such as climate change, air and water pollution and the depletion of natural resources.

Businesses are increasingly turning to Life Cycle Thinking and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in order to improve the environmental profile of their products and supply chains, thus gaining competitive advantages. Public bodies are also using LCA to help assess policy options and support measures for promoting greener products such as ecolabels, ecodesign, green public procurement and better waste management.

This approach considers a wide range of impacts throughout the life of a product, starting with the extraction of natural resources, through to manufacture, distribution and use, and ending with re-use, recycling, and the disposal of remaining waste.

The International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) Handbook provides detailed guidance on how to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to quantify the emissions, resources consumed and the pressures on the environment and human health that can be attributed to a product. Developed by the JRC's Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) in cooperation with the Commission's Directorate-General for Environment, the ILCD Handbook is in line with international standards and has been established through a series of extensive public and stakeholder consultations.

Life Cycle Thinking and Life Cycle Assessment are already playing a key role in EU policies in areas such as Integrated Product Policy, the Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan and waste legislation and will continue to be an essential factor in policy-making in the future.