Welcome to the Life Cycle Thinking workshop series part three; Life Cycle Tools & Approaches.
The research study initially sought to understand the application of Life Cycle Inventory by practitioners in a New Zealand Context. Through the course of the investigation it became apparent that this was difficult to do without discussing and considering the wider context. This scope was incrementally broadened to look at how LCI operates within the wider context including some of the influencing factors. The recommendations and conclusions effectively are made within the wider implications of how LCI is being used and how it might be able to better satisfy its emerging role.
The first phase of the research was to define the core group of practitioners in New Zealand. This started with the most well known practitioners and spread out through discussion with the wider group of practitioners. This list was expanded over the course of the investigation and was only closed in June. A pure list of experienced LCA practitioners would have resulted in a short list, so the investigation covered a wider range of territory and included those on the fringes which may not have complied with a strict set of criteria. This was a positive step as it allowed discussion of a broader context. This included input output assessment, GHG assessment, and other related work. The practitioners were deliberately sourced from research and commercial domains to ensure that, in part the total capacity of the New Zealand community was at least sketched out through the course of this investigation.
The key result that can be deduced from this, is that there are few experienced practitioners operating across the three types of LCA in New Zealand. This is qualitatively supported by the transcripts and the greatly varying depth and detail people were able to discuss the methodological issues in.
New Zealand is emerging from a lot of ‘cradle to gate’ work into ‘cradle to market’, which is being accelerated with the introduction of embodied carbon labelling. The ideal of ‘cradle to cradle’ is still very far from a reality in the existing environment. Many practitioners stated they had a range of issues with end of life which would indicate that even the ‘cradle to grave’ results in this table would have to be tempered against the actual effectiveness of the outputs. This could be a subject for further discussion and work by the community.
Allocation is one of the most complex areas which affects environmental assessments. There is a wide range of work going on to input into the development of embodied carbon labelling. Due to the primary export nature of New Zealand this is something which will require constant monitoring and collective action by practitioners over the coming years to ensure that any methodological developments can be influenced or current practice aligned with the outcomes.
There is a real focus on global warming amongst practitioners. Some experienced practitioners state that impact selection should not affect the collection of relevant data. However, some practitioners have stated that the focus on a reduced number of categories is the result of budget and the climate change focus. This has the potential to affect other studies downstream so should be the topic for discussion.
Inventory data although developed in LCA, is now central to a wide range of areas. There is a strong need for a broader ‘Life Cycle Thinking’ approach. This should incorporate business, RS&T, govt, and research sectors. This seems critical to enable greater uptake and better use of the information across the board.