30 years of fact-based sustainability: celebration and looking ahead
It doesn’t happen that often that you turn 30 and feel like things have just started. PRé has been around since 1990. In that time, we have developed the world’s leading life cycle assessment software and some of the most widely used methodologies for LCA. Not to mention the many interesting clients and partners we have gotten to work with. Plenty to make us proud. And there is plenty of work to do for the next 30 years as well. PRé Managing Director Eric Mieras looks back and ahead.
Look how far we’ve come
The state of the art of sustainability in the decade before PRé started can be summed up with a quote from a 1985 article from PRé’s founder Mark Goedkoop, his first on LCA:
Of some materials, we presume to know that they are good or bad for the environment. However, we often leave undefined what is good and what is bad, and what we really mean when we say ‘the environment.’
Of course, whether something is good or bad for any particular part of the environment is something everyone in the sustainability field will always have to keep wondering, whenever new products are designed and new manufacturing methods developed. That’s what makes the sustainability field so interesting and so important.
But with PRé, we’ve definitely had the honor to be able to contribute to many new and better ways of looking at those questions.
- Eco-indicator 95: In 1992, the first comprehensive impact assessment method reported a dozen impacts. From industry quickly came the call for single-score results, which inspired the Dutch government to commission the very first endpoint method: the Eco-indicator 95 project, developed by PRé and with Philips, Océ, Nedcar and Unilever in an advisory role. This kicked off a series of updates, leading to the still very widely used ReCiPe methodology.
- Product social metrics: Traditionally, LCA focuses on the environmental impact pillar of sustainability. However, companies and legislators recognize the increasing relevance of social impacts, not just on the world but also on a company’s reputation, for instance when child labor or poor working conditions are revealed in the press. PRé has explored this area for more than a decade by now, which resulted in the Product Social Metric Roundtable and the Product Social Impact Assessment method.
- Our contributions to product environmental footprinting (PEF): With the proliferation of green labels and claims, how can consumers know who to trust? The European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprinting initiative aims to cut through the noise with a harmonized methodology for footprinting on the product level, and we’ve been proud to have lent our experience to various phases in the PEF project.
- SimaPro, the world’s leading LCA software: At the time SimaPro was introduced, in 1990, dozens of competing LCA software packages were just springing up to help LCA practitioners do their work with more ease and quality. In the 30 years since, SimaPro has held strong for its quality, user-friendliness and support network. Today, the need for footprinting has only increased, calling for even more distributed, digital, user-friendly ways to produce these footprints. SimaPro’s new software-as-a-service platform was launched to help meet this need.
Look how far we have to go
With all this progress by so many people on so many fronts, you would say that the sustainability field and the world itself are in a good place. Unfortunately, we’re not. Despite the all-consuming threat of the Covid pandemic, climate change and biodiversity loss are much bigger threats. They’re just less obvious to the casual observer. The world needs to take action now.
Recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to accelerate the systemic change that is needed to make the world sustainable and to stop and revert climate change and biodiversity loss. The European Commission, for instance, is linking recovery plans to their Green Deal. And they acknowledge the role of science in change by launching a one billion euro Green Deal call. The call is designed to respond to the climate crisis, provide more protection to Europe’s biodiversity and habitats under threat, and accelerate a sustainable recovery.
Let’s bring sustainability to the world stage
This is good news. The first signs of accelerating actions to battle climate change and biodiversity loss are popping up. We also see this in the growing interest in our software and consultancy.
All of us around the world have to step up our efforts. At PRé, this looks like continuing to share ideas and build partnerships, as we are convinced we can’t change the world alone. A key concept in our approach is bringing the extensive knowledge of the LCA community to decision-makers in industry, finance and government in a way that’s easier to access and understand. This focus is, for instance, why we have started the CDLCI Initiative and why we’ve been by expanding and developing SimaPro from a software suite into a platform for collaboration and sharing of insights.
This is how we think we can best give robust support to decision-makers, empowering them to make decisions that keep environmental, social and economic impacts in mind and stimulate the circular economy.
And to every store and market
Sustainability is going to guide the tremendous transition in the ways our economies and future are designed. Increasingly, people are starting to see what the LCA community has built: a very complete documentation of the environmental impacts of all major supply chains, and the methods to assess, understand and report the impact of our choices.
On an individual level, producers and consumers need footprinting information that is available in real time and for everything we do or buy. Just like every product or service has a price tag, it should have a price tag for the impact it causes. At PRé, we have plenty of experience with individual customers and users, but to achieve this worldwide coverage and availability, we need to scale up these efforts to entire sectors or even all consumers.
Community is the key
Our goal is to reach beyond the circle of LCA experts and reposition our tools to support the audiences and decision-makers who desperately need the knowledge available in the LCA community. We need tools on all levels: from life cycle assessment to life cycle thinking, and providing strategic insights as well as real-time footprinting information.
These are exciting projects that we wouldn’t be able to do without our employees, partners, clients, users and all the other people in the community that has grown around us. Only by sharing ideas and knowledge can we make the change that is now needed. With our SimaPro users, our partners, our consultancy customers, and through all the collaborations and partnerships we have set up.
We’re honored to have worked – and still be working – with so many talented people. The drive and motivation of all those people to make this world a sustainable place gives us energy and makes it fun to do our work. That makes me feel really privileged, and gives me hope for the ambitious goals we have for our planet’s future.
Sustainability is all about impact. Positive impact makes you meaningful. But first you have to know where you are making an impact and where you can create shared value. That’s where PRé comes in. Pinpointing your impact is an essential starting point for taking joint action with people and organisations in your ecosystem. The combination of sustainability and social business can make a real change in the way we do business.