When manufacturers want to introduce a new product or service, or improve the performance of an existing one, they need to examine its environmental impact. This means understanding how it relates to the environment throughout its life. One way to do this is to apply Lifecycle Thinking LCT.

Lifecycle Thinking is a thought process that covers all stages of the life of a product – raw material extraction and conversion, product manufacture, packaging, distribution, use, treatment and disposal.

Its objective is to identify and reduce the overall environmental impact of the product and also to avoid moving impacts from one stage in the lifecycle to another, from one medium (air, water, land) to another or from one geographic area to another.

Advantages of LCT:

  • It is a practical, common-sense way of thinking
  • It can be done in-house, and in a reasonable length of time which is important in the fast-moving consumer goods market
  • It is a sensible starting point
  • Even small and medium sized companies can adopt it
  • The EU has supported it as a valid policy-setting approach
  • It is relatively qualitative so does not require detailed data collection

For packaging, LCT means:

  • finding out the source and amount of the materials, energy and water used in manufacture
  • being aware of the likely use of energy in packaging conversion, filling, distribution, retailing and use
  • understanding the packaging’s role in relation to preventing damage or spoilage of the product it contains and performing all the other functions expected of it
  • finding out how waste may be treated and recovered in areas where the packaging is likely to become waste
  • designing the packaging so that after use, ‘value’ as recycled materials, energy or compost can be recovered in areas where collection and reprocessing facilities exist or that the packaging can be disposed of safely in areas that do not have such facilities.

Some of this information, particularly regarding sourcing of materials, is not easy to obtain but an LCT report can make this clear, unlike an LCA where real and default data are added together and it is not always possible to distinguish one from the other.

If, having done a Lifecycle Thinking exercise, it is decided that an LCA is necessary; the information gained from doing an LCT will have begun that process.

We have produced A Code of Practice to help companies to incorporate Life Cycle Thinking into their design and manufacturing processes. See also related factsheets.