Switzerland | ESU-services Ltd.
Pioneers in LCA development, Swiss-based company ESU-services Ltd. uses life-cycle thinking to improve their clients’ environmental performance.
From Academia to ecoinvent
Founded in 1998, ESU-services Ltd. was the first private LCA consultancy in Switzerland to feature life cycle assessments. “We liked this field and wanted to go on working in it,” after receiving doctoral degrees from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) in Zurich, Managing Director Niels Jungbluth said. “At the time no one was doing this work except at universities, where you do research. We wanted to do more applied science, to help smaller companies who don’t necessarily want to do big research projects.” An important development for ESU-services Ltd. was when the company worked as the project lead on the creation of ecoinvent, the world’s leading life-cycle inventory database (www.ecoinvent.org). Today, ESU-services Ltd. features their own database, which includes life-cycle inventory data on agricultural products, private consumption, food, energy, materials, waste management, and more. “We now offer about 2,000 product life cycle inventories,” says Karin Flury, the contact person for data sales and SimaPro, and the company is adding new information all the time. “We’re currently investigating processed food products, including food waste,” Flury said.
ESU-services Ltd. has a varied client roster, ranging from multinational corporations like Unilever, to small, single-person operations. “We have worked on international, EU-funded projects,” in addition to supporting “NGOs like WWF and industrial organizations like the Aluminum Foil Association,” Jungbluth said.
Such a diverse clientele has led to many interesting projects. “At the moment we are working on a research project looking at sustainability in the food sector,” Jungbluth told us. “We’re developing a tool that should facilitate the environmental performance of SME (Small and Medium sized Enterprises) in the food sector.”
Another current project also focuses on food, namely, food purchasing. “A canteen operator in Switzerland wanted to look at the environmental performance of meals served, and how they can reduce their environmental impact,” Jungbluth explained. “After analyzing the whole of food purchases we discovered several different potential strategies for conservation, including offering less meat and more vegetables with meals.” In addition, ESU-services Ltd. also trains clients, executes small case studies, and performs literature reviews. “We have a lot of products in development; it’s an exciting time,” said Jungbluth.
Complementary Approaches, Similar Outlooks
“SimaPro is a key product that is used by many LCA practitioners,” said Flury, which is why ESU-services Ltd. was pleased to become the SimaPro agent in Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein more than six years ago. “We have always had staff members who worked with SimaPro and who liked the software,” Jungbluth explained. “We found that SimaPro was the easiest LCA software to work with after testing Gabi and Umberto as well. It is so user friendly, and it can follow the environmental impacts of products from cradle to grave, a feature we like very much, compared to other programs.” In particular, ESU-services Ltd. likes serving as the regional SimaPro agent because, “it’s a supplementary service that we can offer to our clients, to help them with all of their ambitions in the field of sustainability,” Jungbluth explained.
In their time working with PRé, ESU-services Ltd. has also been able to further influence the development of SimaPro. “We offered feedback and assisted in the integration of the Swiss Input-Output database and the Ecological Scarcity Method into the program,” Jungbluth said. “Because both companies have similar outlooks,” as LCA consultancies, “we have something to offer each other.”
Looking Forward to Challenges and Opportunities
Thanks to the creation of ecoinvent and its many different projects, ESU-services Ltd. has greatly contributed to the scientific reliability of LCAs worldwide. It’s a contribution that has grown in part due to a website where free life cycle inventory data can be downloaded (www.lc-inventories.ch). Customers access data daily from this website to use in their LCA studies. Yet Jungbluth also sees that LCA research, particularly work performed at the university level, is growing increasingly complex. He believes that integrating those research projects with existing programs like SimaPro may prove complicated. “It will be a challenge for the typical LCA tools to work with new issues, like regional water footprints,” he said, adding, “Web-based tools are another issue that may become more important in future. I think there needs to be more development here.”
In terms of data collection as well as other LCA advances, the company wants to grow. “We always have projects and new technologies that pop up,” Jungbluth said, including new plans to investigate energy use and private consumption. “There are a lot of new developments on this scene, and we have to stay up-to-date,” he explained. “We’re always thinking of what we can do next.”
With a dedication to helping their clients both big and small, and a commitment to providing reliable data to the entire sustainability industry, ESU-services Ltd. has been an asset to the LCA community for 15 years. As they delve further into energy and food consumption issues, we will surely all benefit.