Alternatives Assessment: Lessons from Life Cycle Assessment
Alternatives Assessment is all about the search for safer alternatives. In the past five years, this growing field has been mainly focused on companies looking for alternative chemicals and materials that are safer for consumers.
There is a great deal of crossover between Alternatives Assessment (AA) and Life Cycle Assessment. Looking at the life cycle of a chemical from product creation to end points, and considering its impact on human health, are important parts of both disciplines. As both fields begin to look into social metrics, there’s even more possibility for crossover going forward.
Last week I attended the Safer Products Summit in San Francisco where I spoke on a panel on this subject. There’s much the new field of AA can learn from the more established LCA community. Critics could say it’s not as easy as it sounds, and they are right.
Let’s take the harmonization between AA and LCA. It’s true that the life-cycle field is not driven by regulations, while AA has been more so under the umbrella of Safer Consumer Products Regulations. However, there are LCA standards in place that could be a useful reference, especially the ISO 14040/44 guidelines. In addition, AA concerns could be integrated into large, already established coordinating organization efforts, like the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative. What really matters is: by utilizing systems already in place, the AA field can grow more effectively.
Another major area of concern is the need for transparency. It is often a difficult concept for companies who don’t want to disclose proprietary information. Just imagine: How can an assessment deal with the fact that the public wants to know what chemicals the product contains, while protecting the corporate secret sauce?
Finding that balance is difficult, but there are ways to make it work. One option may be the LCA-driven Environmental Product Declarations. In an EPD, companies can list a product’s chemicals of concern, while protecting their formulation and processing information. At this point, you might be wondering, why should we bother?
One benefit of both LCAs and AAs, as mentioned by my co-panelist Carol Hood, Lead of the Toxicology Assessment Team for Clorox, is the ability of these assessments to bring together team members who wouldn’t normally meet. By creating groups with different agendas and backgrounds, we enhance our chances for success through communication. Isn’t this what characterizes true collaboration?
As I talked with the scientists, regulators, and attorneys at the Safer Products Summit, something became clear to me.
Companies want to make money, of course, but at the same time they don’t want to put out products that are “risky” or harmful to society. They realize that long-term benefits can only be achieved when both companies and consumers win. They want to improve and innovate the products they create, making these chemicals safer for people and better for the environment.
If we work together, we can make that a reality.
President of PRé North America
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Renée Morin opened the North American office of PRé in 2011, serving as President of PRé's North American team. She lead the team to create unique life-cycle-based solutions in diverse industries, from solar energy, to chemicals. Renée worked at PRé from 2011, until 2015.