LCM 2019: collaborating to solve pressing environmental issues
LCM is the international conference on Life Cycle Management, one of the most important technology events in the field of LCA. Hosted by Poznan University of Technology, the conference had seven parallel sessions over three days and no fewer than 503 participants. PRé’s Laura Golsteijn attended and wrote this article to share her experience.
It was my first time in Poland, and I really enjoyed the LCM conference and the city of Poznań. Reflecting on the presentations I saw and the people I met, the dominant feeling is a positive and collaborative spirit to solve the pressing environmental issues that we are facing. I very much valued the three days I spent at LCM 2019 and am definitely planning to attend the next LCM conference, in Stuttgart (Germany) in September 2021.
Defining the issues
One big part of the problem we discussed at LCM 2019 is that the demand for materials to produce goods is sky high. At the same time, there is not really an established market for secondary raw materials. For instance, the actual recycling rate for many metals is less than 1%. Why is that? Karen Hanghøj from EIT RawMaterials showed that, over the years, the use of metals per capita has increased but the type of metals in demand has changed. Today, there is less demand for the metals that were dominant 50 years ago, so these are not being recycled all that actively. Similarly, 50 years from now, people may have no interest in recycling the dominant metals of today.
Focusing on the goals behind the goals
During the conference, there was a lot of agreement on what deserves our focus. Many presenters stressed that recycling is not a goal in itself. Even a circular economy is not a goal in itself. What we need to be working on are the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The second thing everybody agreed upon was the way to reach these goals: life cycle thinking. As Jadwiga Emilewicz, Polish Minister for the Entrepreneurship and the Environment, illustrated the need by explaining that every second, 800 laptops are going to e-waste. Becoming conscious of the full life cycle of products, she said, is a fundamental and necessary change consumers need to make.
Rethinking sources and needs
Professor Sangwon Suh from UC Santa Barbara also showed a good example of how life cycle thinking can help us avoid costly mistakes: the ban on importing plastic waste in China led to a shortage of recycled PET fibres for the production of polyester garments. Therefore, manufacturers started using coal-based fibres to produce polyester, which is even worse for the environment than petroleum-based fibres. Some life cycle thinking ahead of time could have identified this risk.
But do we really need all these polyester clothes? As Professor Suh correctly pointed out, the question we should ask ourselves is: “Can we collectively reduce the demand for such functionalities?” After all, as he says, “No one woke up this morning with the idea ‘today I need two kilograms of plastic’”.
Keynote speech by Eric Mieras at LCM conference on September 2, 2019.
Boosting life cycle thinking everywhere
Together, we should raise awareness for the life cycle perspective. Only then can we prevent burden shifting and truly reduce environmental impacts. In his keynote speech on the first day of the LCM conference, PRé’s managing director Eric Mieras showed how we can do this. Basically, there are five key elements for scaling up the use of LCA: guidance, data, capacity, value creation, and digitisation. At PRé, we are working on all of these elements.
Some examples of each:
- Guidance: the development of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules for Horticulture
- Data: our collaboration with NorEnviro on an integrated LCA Data Infrastructure for Norway
- Capacity: the UNIDO project in which we supported Southern Mediterranean countries by building capacity for Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) studies
- Value creation: our collaboration with 2.-0 LCA consultants to link the UN Sustainable Development Goals to LCA
- Digitisation: our work for the Dutch dairy sector about footprinting at a supply chain level, gaining insights into the carbon footprint of raw milk from all Dutch dairy farms
Would you like to contribute to spreading life cycle thinking as well? Don’t hesitate to reach out! We’d love to collaborate.
I am eager to increase the environmental awareness of our society, and I believe that everyone can contribute to a more sustainable world, every day. At PRé we provide companies with both the knowledge and the tools to improve their products and services. I am excited to work for an organisation that is involved in developing sustainable initiatives.