There have been big advances in tools and methodologies that will assess the sustainability of a product ranging from carbon foot-printing, ecolabels through to the recent development of a comprehensive Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method developed by the EU.
I have had organisations ask me the question ‘where should we start?’ when looking at the sustainability issues around their products. Of course, one way to answer this is to perform a quantitative (and complex) Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). However, the highly detailed nature of these analyses means that they are expensive, time-consuming and are often limited in their application. Way back in 2008 I was part of a team involving Forum for the Future and the Natural Step that developed a really simple tool which we called the SLCA (Streamlined Life Cycle Analysis).
It works like this. Questions underpinning each life cycle stage are used to help product teams think innovatively about sustainability challenges. The answers result in a qualitative colour-coded matrix that communicates sustainability impacts to non-experts and benchmarks progress towards full sustainability as things change. It identifies the major issues in relation to a product or process in a qualitative manner, and these can then be followed up in more detail at the next stage – perhaps with some more quantitative analysis. This means that the effort on quantitative analysis can be very focused.
In my experience, one of the great things about it was that it allowed cross-functional conversations to be had without the jargon.
Sometimes it pays to go back to basics…