Critical review of an LCA approach to efficiently assess a large product portfolio
For global manufacturer Corbion, PRé reviewed a portfolio LCA approach that allows Corbion to efficiently assess every product in their large portfolio without having to start from scratch.
Many companies have started doing LCA, which is a great development in science-based sustainability. Even a single LCA of a product or manufacturing site can provide tremendous benefits – showing hot spots and improvement opportunities and, of course, what companies are already doing right in terms of reducing impacts.
But what if you are a global company with a huge portfolio of products manufactured in a variety of sites around the world? Then a single LCA does not help you decide how you can best reduce your impacts. You would want to look at all your products and all your sites efficiently and in ways you can compare the results.
Corbion is such a global company. The global manufacturer of sustainable ingredient solutions wished to assess the sustainability of its entire product portfolio. Their ultimate goal: ISO-compliant LCA studies for each manufacturing site and product. To do so efficiently, Corbion developed their portfolio LCA approach: a guidance document for product LCAs, accompanied by a flexible LCA model with parameters that can be easily adapted for future use. They then asked PRé for an expert review of this portfolio approach.
PRé and Corbion already had a relationship, since PRé had earlier done a critical review of an ISO-compliant LCA study from Corbion. Corbion used what they learned from this first ISO-compliant study for future assessments of chemical derivatives in their portfolio. By doing a critical review of the portfolio approach, PRé now helped guarantee that this approach is applicable to other sites and provided a number of conditions and considerations that deserved additional attention.
The reviewer had the responsibility of ensuring that the portfolio LCA approach followed ISO 14040 and 14044 as much as possible. Where the portfolio LCA approach deviated from the ISO standards, the critical review process needed to ensure that:
- The methods adopted by the portfolio LCA approach are consistent with the ISO standards.
- The methods adopted by the portfolio LCA approach are scientifically and technically valid.
- The approach to populate the flexible LCA model with data for new products is appropriate and reasonable in relation to the original study.
- The assessment itself is transparent and consistent.
The portfolio approach helps not only to quantify the environmental footprint of the company’s products, but also to communicate about them to customers. The review consisted of two rounds. First, the reviewer looked at a draft document describing the approach and at the parameterized SimaPro model and the Excel file linking to it. The reviewer examined how well the portfolio approach complied with the review requirements mentioned above. The review comments were then discussed with the Corbion LCA practitioners to see how the approach needed to be clarified or adjusted. A second review round resulted in a final review statement.
The critical review helped increase the credibility of the portfolio LCA approach and ensured its robustness. The reviewed and improved portfolio approach has three main advantages:
- It makes it easier for Corbion to assess individual products without having to start from scratch.
- It allows Corbion to use current product LCAs as a basis or benchmark in internal assessments, such as sustainability assessment for innovation projects.
- It provides insights into which products contribute most to the company’s overall environmental footprint.
Corbion has used the portfolio approach to derive LCAs for all products produced at its manufacturing site in Thailand and aims to perform cradle-to-gate LCAs for 50% of their products by 2020.