Design

Life cycle thinking

Life cycle thinking means accounting for economic, environmental and social impacts across all stages of a product or process life cycle. This perspective informs the design team of the product’s life cycle impacts across a range of sustainability issues (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions, jobs created, daily average life years, etc.).

It’s not always easy for companies to decide which design alternatives are better. So, it’s up to the company to compare life cycle impacts of a product or process to their mission and goals.

Life cycle thinking is based on and requires using some form of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), such as:

  • Environmental LCA
  • Social LCA
  • Life cycle cost analysis or total cost of ownership
  • Streamlined LCA

The typical life cycle stages companies consider when evaluating the impacts of a product or service are listed below. The number of stages to include in your life cycle thinking depends on the product or process. Transportation between all stages should be included as well:

  1. Raw material extraction
  2. Material processing
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Use
  5. End-of-Life

Resources

Life Cycle Initiative, UN Environment & SETAC

Example

Solvay: Sustainable Portfolio Management

Situation

  • The case for drastically reducing the consumption of non-renewable resources is well established. Restorative and regenerative economy by design is becoming the norm: use less, use longer, use smarter.
  • The chemicals industry mainly serves upstream value chains and through anticipation and innovation, chemistry holds the sustainable solutions for the future.

Challenge

  • Burden shifting from one sustainability issue to another.
  • Taking robust, longer term strategic decisions while integrating early sustainability driven trends from the market.

Solution

  • Solvay builds on its proprietary Sustainable Portfolio Management (SPM) tool to steer its product portfolio to meet social and environmental unmet needs in value chains, including circular economy loops.
  • The tool is used to review and upgrade the portfolio of activities, investment choices and priorities for the research and innovation program to achieve higher social and environmental standards.
  • SPM maps sustainability concerns and opportunities in the marketplace along the entire value chain (cradle-to-grave).

Key benefits

  • The application of the SPM tool is workable in the timeframe of decision making process
  • Portfolio management decisions and differentiation strategy.
  • Reduce product manufacturing footprint.
  • 100% Group revenue is future-proofed (risks have been systematically identified).
  • 30% Group revenue matches circular economy unmet needs (Renewables and Finite Materials).
  • Higher growth rate: SPM category Solutions (unmet needs to achieve higher social or environmental standards) shows an annual growth rate of +9%, year to year, compared to 3% for “usual” business.