Cut The Fluff Series 2How life cycleassessmentcan alignyour starsBy Ramon ArratiaNovember 2011www.interfaceflorcutthefluff...
How life cycle assessment can align your starsHow life cycle assessmentcan align your starsThe idea of life cycle assessme...
How life cycle assessment can align your starsnylon. Today we have products with made out of         Design and innovation...
How life cycle assessment can align your starsSupply chain                                           They have no need to ...
How life cycle assessment can align your starsto LCA thinking then things happen. And if your         Following the rules ...
How life cycle assessment can align your stars About InterfaceFLOR InterfaceFLOR is the modular flooring division of US-ba...
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How life cycle assessment can align your stars


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This article describes the power of embracing LCA as the core sustainability tool. Many companies are starting to shift from corporate sustainability to product sustainability. Most of the impacts of companies are outside their own boundaries, either in the supply chain or customers.

Embracing LCA helps gives sense to supply chain management, innovation, marketing and sales, aligning all the organization on what most matters: the bigger impacts of your products.

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How life cycle assessment can align your stars

  1. 1. Cut The Fluff Series 2How life cycleassessmentcan alignyour starsBy Ramon ArratiaNovember
  2. 2. How life cycle assessment can align your starsHow life cycle assessmentcan align your starsThe idea of life cycle assessment (LCA) has been Many companies still don’t fully account foraround since the 1970s, but companies are this kind of indirect impact, and instead focusonly just beginning to tap into its real potential. 80 per cent of their efforts on managing 20At InterfaceFLOR, over the last few years we’ve per cent of their impacts: the direct impacts.realised the truly transformative effect of Most of today’s sustainability managementembracing LCA as a strategic tool. It’s helping concentrates on tools to manage operationalus change the way we approach sustainability, impacts. Carbon management, for example,providing a common language across the whole usually focuses on improving energy efficiency incompany and helping everyone work together to the company’s operations, using renewables andfocus on solutions for the same key challenges. reducing travel emissions. The emphasis is on corporate strategies and branding the company’sWe’ve found that LCA has the power to align sustainability story; there is little if any mention ofthe stars – to create a consistent approach to product impacts.sustainability activity in every part of the businessand to get everyone telling the same story. What Many CEOs claim that sustainability is part of theiryour product designers focus on is the same as company’s DNA. But it cannot be in the company’swhat your sales force talks about. What you say to DNA until the core thing in the company is radicallyyour suppliers is the same as what you say to your re-designed: its products. An LCA helps youcustomers. And what you report to stakeholders understand the true impact your products have onis the same as your marketing claims. The the environment. It tells the full story, revealing thefacts generated from the LCA form the basis for impacts in every phase of a product’s life.everything.LCA is an established scientific method We’ve found that LCA has theof assessing the environmental impacts power to align the stars – toof a product, including carbon footprint, create a consistent approachresource use or toxicity. It studies all theimpacts throughout the life of a product to sustainability activity in every– from extraction and production of raw part of the business and to getmaterials to manufacturing, transport, use, everyone telling the same story.maintenance and end of life disposal.Evaluating these impacts enables informed By producing LCAs for all InterfaceFLOR products,decision-making about how to design, make and we have discovered that around 70 per cent ofsell products. the overall environmental impact of our carpetThe bigger picture tiles is related to the raw materials used to make them. Of these, the nylon yarn we use to make ourCrucially, LCA pushes a company to look beyond carpet tiles has the single biggest environmentalthe direct impacts of its own operations. If a impact. In fact, nylon production accounts forbusiness makes a product, 60-90 per cent of its almost half of the impacts across the full life cycleenvironmental impacts are likely to be outside the of a carpet’s immediate boundaries. Building a car,for instance, uses energy and raw materials. But LCA showed us that this is our biggest impact,according to the European Environment Agency, enabling us to focus our efforts where they willaround 77 per cent of a car’s total footprint comes make the biggest difference: reducing the amountafter it has left the factory – when it is driven of yarn we use, finding ways to recycle old yarnaround by consumers. into new, and looking for bio-based alternatives toThe Cut The Fluff Series 2 Ramon Arratia November 2011 02
  3. 3. How life cycle assessment can align your starsnylon. Today we have products with made out of Design and innovation100% recycled nylon and half the amount of that The first thing that happens when identifyingyarn, cutting by half the overall impact. Before LCA the key impacts of your product is that you canwe focused primarily on reducing the impact of ourredesign it to reduce those impacts. What getsown operations, without realising we were missing measured becomes visible. This immediatelythe biggest impact of our business in the supply gives your designers a clear objective to guide thechain. design of your products, focusing on reducing key impacts rather than ‘feel-good’ greenLCA gives your designers a clear gimmicks. Committing to performingobjective to guide the design of an LCA for every new product before it is launched gives your designers strongyour products, focusing on reducing signals about what the company wantskey impacts rather than creating from them. If a company didn’t have‘feel-good’ green gimmicks. an LCA approach, design teams would start by coming up with a product that is ‘more sustainable’ without knowing whatYou too can use LCA to show what matters to your ‘more sustainable’ is. The brainstorming sessionsbusiness, and your products. Start by conducting come up with concepts like: ‘locally produced’,an LCA on your most important or popular product. ‘natural’ ingredients or made using wind power. AsBe prepared for the unexpected, and be ready to a result, time and money can be channelled intochange your strategy as a result. product re-designs that sound bold and innovative,Aligning action but make very little difference to the overall impactThe key to the LCA approach is that it provides a of the product. The results of an LCA give designconsistent focus for everyone involved in every teams the opportunity to say ‘OK, we now knowpart of the business – from product design and that 80 per cent of the impact is in this area, soinnovation to marketing, sales, procurement, and we need to work on reducing that impact’. It’s asustainability reporting. Here’s how it works: no brainer. Supply Product Design Marketing Sales Chain and Innovation Reporting to government and stakeholders What you tell your suppliers is the same as what you tell your customers. What your designers focus on is the same as what your sales force talk about. What you report to stakeholders is the same as what your marketing claims. It’s all based on just the facts from LCA.The Cut The Fluff Series 2 Ramon Arratia November 2011 03
  4. 4. How life cycle assessment can align your starsSupply chain They have no need to come up with another label,The second thing that happens is that your the message is embedded in the product itself.product managers tell your purchasing colleagues Salesto translate the LCA findings to your supplier Your sales staff can now enter the same LCA factsrequirements. At InterfaceFLOR, once we knew into tenders and sales material. At InterfaceFLORthat the biggest impact was from virgin nylon yarn, our sales people used to tell the story of Missionwe asked our suppliers to come up with a way to Zero – our promise to eliminate any negativegive us 100 per cent recycled nylon yarn. One of impact on the environment by 2020 – when ourthem, Aquafil, invested in a re-polymerisation plant customers were just asking about the impacts of the carpet tile they were buying. Now theyHaving the facts printed in have something far more tangible to focuspromotional materials cut the on. The LCA means they can tell customers exactly what the impact of a product isgreenwash, the funny labels across its lifecycle and enables them toand the self-serving claims. The compare this with other products in ourmarketing is done by the facts. range. Printing this information on marketing materials means your sales guys have no scope for sexing up stories, becauseto meet this demand and is now delivering 100 the facts are right there in front of them and theper cent recycled yarn made from old nylon fishing customer. What is more re-assuring? If I tell you tonets. LCA enables you to set clear expectations of trust me, that all my company’s products are goodsuppliers where it matters, asking them to come for the environment? Or if I tell you: this productup with radical, practical innovations that will help has 5.7kgCO2 and this one has 12.9kgCO2. I amyou significantly reduce product impacts. Supply not going to patronise you, you have the hard factschain management becomes less complicated – along with other factors such as design, pricetoo. Instead of sending suppliers 700-question or service – you can use those facts to make aquestionnaires with requests such as ‘do you purchasing decision.have an environmental policy?’ or ‘haveyou signed up to the Global Compact?’, Consumers don’t ask caryou can talk to them directly about howthey can help you reduce the impact of companies for the sustainabilityyour product. How transformative is a box report. They say: cut the fluff andticking questionnaire compared with asking tell me the gCO2/km.suppliers to respond just to your biggestenvironmental challenge? CustomersMarketing Forget the consumers, my mum in the supermarket doesn’t care, she doesn’t have timeOnce your suppliers have helped your innovation to look at the facts. But there are other customerscolleagues to produce more sustainable who do, especially these three types: governmentsproducts, it enables your marketing department who have committed to public procurement butto make environmental claims based on fact, don’t know how to make the decisions becausenot greenwash. The marketeers now have a product providers can’t give them the facts theyready-made ‘angle’ for the product, as they are need; B2B buyers such as architects designingpromoting something that ha s been designed green buildings; and retailers like Walmartto be sustainable. They no longer have to come driving carbon emissions reductions across itsup with a post-justification for the product’s supply chain. The demand for plain facts assustainability. Like everyone else in your opposed to catchy labels or stretched claimscompany, the marketing team can now focus on can only increase. This is the interesting bitcommunicating the big impacts that really matter. about stars aligning, when customers also alignThe Cut The Fluff Series 2 Ramon Arratia November 2011 04
  5. 5. How life cycle assessment can align your starsto LCA thinking then things happen. And if your Following the rules for LCAcompany is tuned into that customer demand for Of course LCA is not foolproof. If you usetransparency, then you have a huge competitive unrealistic assumptions to underpin youradvantage. assessments then you can come up withSustainability reporting unrealistic figures. For instance, if you assume that your product has a lifespan of 20 years when reallyFinally, the LCA approach simplifies environmental it will last only 10, then you will be halving thereporting. Until now, most companies have looked overall stakeholders to guide them on which materialissues to focus their activity and reporting on. That’s why you need to do LCAs following productThis might work well for social and ethical issues, category rules that fix the assumptions sobut why spend so much time creating materiality that competitors’ products can be compared.matrices and asking self-appointed stakeholders Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs),who have no way of assessing the real impacts based on LCAs, are produced in a standardizedof your business on the environment? An LCA form recognised by the International Standardstells you what those impacts are with no room for Organisation. InterfaceFLOR has committed toargument. produce EPDs for all its products by the end of 2012.With an LCA, your company can cut the fluff andreport performance on the impacts that matter With these rules in place, LCAs enable transparentmost. No longer do you need a glossy corporate comparability of product environment impactsresponsibility report that cherrypicks a few ‘green’ and they can provide the missing link to join upprojects. Instead you can offer a robust report disparate sustainability initiatives within yourabout how you are redesigning your products to business. Not many companies have realised thiscut impacts. yet. But the move towards product sustainability has started – led by companies such as Unilever,The way forward Tesco, and PepsiCo. Isn’t it time your companyMore companies are shifting their thinking from joined the movement?corporate to product sustainability. Slowly we aremoving on from ‘The CSR decade’, which hasbeen characterised by doing nice things and tellingeverybody about them. The new era, with LCA atits core, will be more about product sustainability,transparency and providing ‘just the facts’:embedding the story into products that speak forthemselves. Corporate responsibility departmentsin many companies have ended up spending theirtime and effort on management processes thatdon’t focus on the biggest impacts. Using LCAsas the cornerstone of sustainability will allowcompanies to concentrate – and report - on thefull environmental impacts of their business andtheir products, focusing as much, if not more, onimpacts outside the company boundary.For some service companies, the use of LCAsmight not be so revelatory, as most of theirenvironmental impacts are likely to be in-house.But LCAs will still show you where you need toconcentrate your efforts, and they will still help tobring alignment across the company.The Cut The Fluff Series 2 Ramon Arratia November 2011 05
  6. 6. How life cycle assessment can align your stars About InterfaceFLOR InterfaceFLOR is the modular flooring division of US-based Interface Inc. The company is a worldwide leader in the design and production of high-quality, stylish, innovative modular floor coverings. Interface was one of the first companies to publicly commit to sustainability, when it made a ‘Mission Zero’ pledge in the mid-nineties to eliminate its impact on the environment by 2020. Mission Zero influences every business, manufacturing and design decision made and inspires the company to continually go beyond current business models, practices and solutions in order to achieve its goal. Interface is now more than half way to reaching its Mission Zero goal and has been widely recognised for its achievements to date. About the author Ramon Arratia is the Sustainability Director InterfaceFLOR EMEAI. His focus is on continuing to develop the company’s sustainability strategy towards Mission Zero as well as reviewing products, services and business processes to ensure that they are as sustainable as possible. Ramon plays a leading role in InterfaceFLOR’s ‘Let’s be clear’ campaign, an anti-greenwash drive calling for full transparency in how companies declare the environmental impact of their products. He has also been instrumental in InterfaceFLOR commitment to have all products covered by Environment Product Declarations (EPDs) by 2012. Ramon is also leading InterfaceFLOR’s ‘war on waste’ campaign, an initiative which calls for action to change European Waste Legislation within the flooring and construction industry.The Cut The Fluff Series 2 Ramon Arratia November 2011 06