lca in business – conference lessons
Last week I attended and presented at the LCA in Business Conference in Lille, France. With an attendance of 270 people from 20 countries, these two days were jam-packed and extremely informative. Not only for my own personal interest in LCA but also in helping me understand how I can improve the LCA to Go project.
I came away from the conference with 4 key thought-provoking lessons.
1. A sector approach is needed to overcome the challenges SMEs face when undertaking an LCA
From the presentations and discussions at the conference it was clear that there was no consensus on the best LCA methodologies to use e.g. what impact categories should be looked at; what inventory databases should be used; or how the results should be communicated etc. If there is no consensus between LCA specialists how do we expect SMEs to solve these issues. The only way I can see this working is through a pre-defined structured approach that can be followed when undertaking an LCA. I believe this is only feasible through a sector-based approach; otherwise the LCA will be too generic to be useful to anyone; it’s impossible to please everyone with one approach. This was reinforced through the break-off sessions which focused on specific sector-based workshops and discussions. These separate sessions enabled participants to discuss the main concerns of their sector, which varied according to the different break out sessions I attended.
2. The divide between LCA specialist and companies is too big
Besides the challenges of conducting an LCA, companies are faced with other practical daily challenges such as funding, staffing, expertise, supply chain constraints, market demands and regulation restrictions. On top of this many of the discussions around LCA focus on the theoretical elements that are not relevant to SMEs. SMEs need practical useful tools. All these issues and many more do not make LCAs attractive. Therefore many companies, and especially SMEs, steer clear of LCA. To overcome this, LCA specialists need to start communicating on the same level as SMEs. They need to be able to demonstrate the tangible benefits that LCA can provide. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening as well as it should. There were many great case studies at the conference and it’s impressive to see the amount of work that has gone into LCAs over the last few years. However, the focus on the LCA processes and results is useless information for SMEs, if they do not understand how LCA can be a beneficial tool on a practical level. I would be interested in case studies showing the challenges and solutions companies face when undertaking the LCA, how these were overcome and how the results of the LCA were integrated into an SME’s decision making processes. This approach would show SMEs common mistakes to avoid and to see how they practically use LCAs.
3. There are many similar projects taking place, why don’t we work and learn together
An eye opener for me was seeing the various projects aiming at bridging the gap between LCA specialists and SMEs. It is comforting to know we are all aiming for the same goal to helping companies to become more sustainable. However, I fear we are repeating the same work, mistakes and achievements. The latter is the only thing I would want to repeat. This is especially the case with the work being done by L’Institut de développement de produits in Canada and the Avnir platform in France. I am interested in seeing if there is anyway we can share the softer lessons from all of our projects. Hopefully, over the next weeks this will become clearer on how this can be approached.
4. Instead of waiting for everything to be perfect we need to start now and improve as we go along
I was surprised by the amount of companies refusing to release the results of their LCA studies for fear of being accused of green washing. However, after Pocheco were interrogated on their LCA assumptions it became clear why SMEs keep their LCA results a secret. This highlights the biggest benefits and downfalls of an LCA, the ability to be as flexible as one wishes. I do not think companies should be able to say what they want, however, we need a way to ensure transparency exists so LCA results are not taken as 100% accurate measurements but as an estimate of only one possible scenario. This was demonstrated in the French Eco-label trial, which encourages companies to communicate their environmental performance any way they wish. Of course this will cause confusion for consumers and will not enable comparisons to be made between products, but it should be seen as just the starting point and not the final solution. I admire their ability to just go out and do something rather than waiting for another 5 or 10 years for a complete consensus on the best approach. We all need to take this approach and learn from trial and error, but only if we we have the ability to reflect and adapt and constantly develop.
Not only did the conference give me a better understand of LCA it has also inspired me to go out and actively bridge the gap between specialists and SMEs without waiting for perfection.
Looking forward to attending next year.Tweet