How do you know if a product is truly sustainable?

Environmental awareness is growing quickly. Different brands, labels and lifestyles compete to illustrate consciousness and care for the world around us, because more and more consumers demand sustainable products to fulfill their daily needs. But what is a sustainable product? And how can you tell what the difference is between a sustainable product and a less sustainable alternative?

This question haunted PRé founder Mark Goedkoop when he was working as an eco-designer, back in 1990. Since then, our drive has always been to make sustainability more fact-based.

Robust, factual assessment tells the difference

Our method of choice is life cycle assessment (LCA). It’s an established, science-based method to assess the environmental impacts related to a product or service. LCA is objective, it can handle a wide variety of environmental problems and it looks at all life cycle stages: raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal.

This wide view prevents accidentally shifting the burden or saying a product is ‘sustainable’ because it performs well in a specific life cycle stage or on one impact type while overlooking other stages of impact. Still, if focusing on one environmental problem is the right choice, LCA is flexible enough to do that too.

Create better products with LCA

After assessing the whole life cycle of your product, you’ll know the environmental performance of your products and the drivers for this impact. For instance, you’ll know which materials and emissions put a large burden on the environment. Then, there are many ways you can use this information. More sustainable product development and improvement, strategic planning, policy making, marketing and more.

You might also encounter life cycle assessment through a branch association. Many of them champion sustainability initiatives based on LCA, to help improve sustainability, comparability and reporting throughout the sector.

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