How can we scale up LCA studies without compromising on quality?
LCA is becoming more popular, with more and more initiatives turning to fact-based approaches to sustainability. This is great! But is there enough LCA expertise in the world to serve these initiatives and ensure the quality of these numerous LCA requests?
Is LCA quantity a danger to its quality?
It is really encouraging to see how many efforts are being made to make sustainability initiatives more fact based. Last month, I was in Shanghai at the Green Product Assessment and Ecodesign Forum China, organised by our partner in China: Bill Kung. The participants enjoyed presentations about assessment and labelling initiatives at multiple levels, from state to province, city and industrial zone. The ambitions are high: to make thousands of products green. The same week, I spoke to our partner in Indonesia, Jessica Hanafi, who is involved in setting up criteria for environmental performance reports. In Europe, the pilot phase of the PEF is nearing its end and a transition phase is planned. A lot of companies and industry associations have already shown interest in the next phase and we are working with some of them to develop PCRs according to the PEF Guidance. And in Northern Africa, we collaborate with UNIDO to educate and train local experts to conduct PEF studies, so they are prepared for what is coming. With all these initiatives requiring LCA-based metrics, the scale at which LCA’s and Impact measurements are performed needs to be increased.
At the same time, we are seeing a lot of debate on our LCA Discussion List about the credibility of EPD and LCA studies, because they are not always done according to standards. And in the end, you want credible results. We need qualified experts to ensure that. As the application of LCA grows, sufficient expertise might become a point of concern. I think there are tens of thousands LCA practitioners worldwide. Given all the initiatives going on, that will never be sufficient to support or conduct all the LCA studies needed.
Therefore, the question becomes: “How do we make results available on a larger scale?” Is training and educating more people sufficient or is there a more efficient way of scaling up?
Technology: the ally for LCA experts
We expect that you will always need a qualified expert for the advanced work, like building a model, selecting the right background data, making methodological choices and so on. A person who knows what he or she is doing. Someone with ample experience with data quality issues or allocation choices, to name a few topics. However, you do not need an expert to collect all the data or make small changes to the model. One of our clients, a very smart and experienced LCA practitioner, told me that it is really time-consuming to gather all the data from their internal business units, prepare reports for each of them one by one and present them individually. That is definitely not the most efficient use of her scarce resources, and certainly not the best use of her skills.
To scale up the use of LCA, I believe we need to use technology to make expert knowledge available to a much broader audience and make the work process more efficient through self-service solutions. A few examples: gathering data, going back and forth with emails, making small changes in models or reports. This kind of work can be automated or outsourced to a high extent. Technologies from other fields, like big data, collaboration platforms and artificial intelligence, will allow LCA experts to focus on the quality of the LCA. With the help of smart tools and platforms, we have opportunities to focus our talent, time and energy on the things that are crucial and cannot be done by any tool or automation. This approach is also an inclusive approach, as it enables smaller companies that generally cannot afford an in-house expert to work with quality LCA studies
Technology and LCA integration, it is already happening
The case of the KringloopWijzer is a great example. Let me share the highlight with you: a number of experts worked on a highly parameterised model to ensure its quality and to enable 16.000 farmers to calculate their GHG footprint. That is the lever we are looking for to make sustainability metrics more widely available – so they can be used for all kinds of decision-making and integrated in the toolset that is being used.
If you want to know how technology and SimaPro can help you to scale up your efforts and increase the efficiency of your work processes, do not hesitate to contact me.
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