LCA is a tool for assessing the environmental impact of products. Think up four ways in which government can increase the use of LCAs through external control and setting boundary conditions. Which way would you choose and why?

As said, an LCA (life cycle assessment) is a tool for assessing the environmental impact of a product using a holistic approach called cradle to grave –or cradle to cradle-, e.g. analyzing all stages of a product’s life, from the raw product till its disposal and/or recycling.

Some ways in which a government can increase the use of LCAs through external control and setting boundary conditions are:

  1. Set a strict legislation that will require from industries that the environmental impact of a product from cradle to grave is less than a certain amount/year of CO2 equivalent. This assessment will be done through LCA procedures defined by scientists working for the government or for a respectable organization (e.g. ISO 14000).  If the industries fail to comply with the law, then the product cannot be distributed in the market anymore.
  2. A more flexible alternative is that instead of banning the product from the market, the industries will have to pay extra taxes per kg of CO2 emitted above limits.  However, an LCA will be still required to be conducted.  To be more effective, no stockmarket-trading of COemission rights will exist.
  3. The government establishes (by funding or by the taxes collected if case 2 is applied) special bodies that will specialize on LCAs and will conduct LCAs at different industry sectors.  This body will have the power to provide label marks saying that a product complies with environmental friendly/sustainable policies. Moreover, it could be that obligatory, labels demonstrating the environmental effects, will be on the product, whether the product has a good or bad environmental impact.
  4. Raise public awareness, by providing subsidies for related public events and R&D in universities. With public awareness raised, also individuals can take the initiative of starting their own business having as main idea an organization that will do as described in case 3.  Also, a database based on LCA analysis results could be created with free access, so that people can be aware of the environmental impact their consumption choices have.

I believe that case 1 & 3 are forms of external control, since the government is saying to the industries what to do and when.  On the other hand, case 2 & 4 are boundary conditions, in respect to which industries have the flexibility to behave accordingly and/or decline.

It is important to highlight that there is no standalone solution.  This is also evident from the solutions that are proposed, since some of them are linked to each other.  Also, a weak point of an LCA is the great amount of data required from many different fields, which are usually not available and thus the inability to compare different LCA analysis, since the references and the boundaries of the systems will have to be the same.

Personally, I think case 3 is the most effective of all the above mentioned ways of LCA adoption.  In this way, public awareness will be raised by using labels and perhaps having a negative effect on companies that are not environmental ethical.  In this way companies will strive to improve and perhaps run their own LCAs in order to do so.

Nevertheless, I believe that all 3 last cases should initially be implemented.  LCA is not a new tool, but rather existing since the 1990’s and even before.  Industries do know the environmental impact their products have, so if they don’t do anything to reduce it, they will have to cope with the consequences.