The bigger picture: Life Cycle Assessment

Shirley, BTTG

We can’t understand the impact of a product on the environment until we look at each stage of its life cycle.

Environmentally and socially responsible producers consider the full life cycle of a product from the outset – so the importance of the designer’s role when it comes to sustainability should not be underestimated.

Challenging the traditional approach to design is especially important, as this approach prioritises cost reduction above all else. If consumers don’t understand a product’s impact on the environment, they will often choose the low cost option – without realising that this may cause increased environmental costs during use. This highlights the need to educate consumers and to empower them to make more informed and responsible choices.

Life Cycle Assessment
Life cycle assessment looks at the environmental impacts associated with all of the stages of a product’s life – including raw material extraction, material processing, manufacture, distribution, use, maintenance or repair, and disposal or recycling.

Streamlined Versions
Whilst life cycle assessment provides analysis of the inputs, outputs, and potential environmental impacts of a product throughout its life cycle, it can be expensive and time consuming. In response, a number of simplified approaches have emerged, including:

  • Environmental Profit and Loss;
  • Environmental product declaration (EPD); and
  • Environmental Impact Assessment.

End of Life Assessment
At the end of its useful life, a product may be discarded into landfill or incinerated. But, if we are to understand the environmental impact of its disposal, we need to know about the materials which have gone into that product. (This is why we champion transparency!)

OEKO-TEX®
STeP by OEKO-TEX® have recently integrated a Life Cycle Assessment Carbon and Water Footprint Tool within certification. OEKO-TEX® with partner Quantis, a leading sustainability consultancy, provide credible insight into where a facility’s biggest carbon emissions and water impacts occur across the processing stages and for types of fibres used. Check the website for more information and regular updates.

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With over 100 years’ experience, Shirley® provides unrivalled and expert reassurance through its technical services and offers a comprehensive range of independent testing services, including OEKO-TEX® certification.

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