Focus on minimizing transportation is good: myth or not?

As a science-based method, LCA is an excellent tool to bust the myths that surround sustainability. In this monthly series, we look at some common sustainability ideas to see if they are myth or true. In today’s episode: transportation.

Supply chains are often complex and interconnected. For companies that source from all over the world, tracing these supply chains is not straightforward. It is well known that cars and other forms of transportation produce greenhouse gases. Since the supply chain is often within the control of the company, it makes sense that companies often assume that transportation is a large source of impact and choose to focus on minimizing this impact. But is that really always the best use of their effort?

Look at the full life cycle

It is important to look at environmental impacts across the full life cycle of products, from cradle to grave. A recent project I worked on with Bloomberg provides a good example of this. Bloomberg produces and distributes customer hardware. The financial news and media giant has a public commitment to improving its products for both its customers and the planet. Reducing transportation seemed like a ‘no brainer’ at first, until we took a closer look. We examined the impacts of Bloomberg’s flat-screen panel and compared the results to a similar study conducted in 2010. Distribution contributed less than 2% of the global warming impact. Instead, the 2010  study found that the customer use phase was clearly the largest contributor to global warming potential. Therefore, when Bloomberg redesigned the model, they switched to an Energy Star product, which helped contribute to a 44% reduction in lifetime CO2 emissions.

Similarly, adjusting the lifetime of the product (changing the average from 4 years to 5 years, for example) has a large impact on the product. Creating a durable product that the customer will keep for a longer period of time is much more important in this case than the transportation impacts.

Always focus on minimizing transportation: myth or not?

Status: busted.

It is important to look at the full life cycle to understand a full picture of the environmental impacts. If transportation is an area where you can easily reduce emissions, of course, this is worthwhile. However, there may be other areas which you aren’t considering where your efforts may be more useful. Before spending valuable resources on minimizing transportation impacts, consider doing a screening LCA. Even if you are also planning to do a full LCA, starting with a screening LCA might be a good idea to see where to focus your data collection efforts.

Uncover more sustainability myths

This is the fourth part of our ‘Sustainability Mythbusters’ series. See other episodes:

It’s easy to use common sense and make assumptions in sustainability, but is that always worth your efforts? If you want to learn how you can use sustainability metrics to uncover more myths for your company, contact us. We are eager to identify more sustainability myths together!

Paula Bernstein

Paula Bernstein worked for PRé from 2013 to February 2018. Her areas of expertise included environmental product performance, LCA databases, and supply chain sustainability measurement. Paula collaborated structurally in LCA and sustainability metrics implementation projects for many industries, such as apparel, food, and building & construction. She also worked closely with the PRé software team to implement databases in PRé’s software package SimaPro.

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