Life cycle assessments (LCA) are increasingly used by industry to communicate improvements of environmental performance in a scientifically defendable way. Typically, studies compare new product designs with “last year’s model” or a market reference to document that the eco-efficiency of a company’s product portfolio is gradually improving or to show that the company is ahead of its competitors in terms of eco-efficiency performance. In both cases the signal to stakeholders is that companies are doing “their share” to foster sustainability. However, while the environmental performance of individual products is being improved, humanity is generally moving further away from a state of environmental sustainability. (1) The reason for this seeming contradiction is that improvements in eco-efficiency are insufficient to offset increasing levels of consumption. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated that the global eco-efficiency improvement from 2000 to 2013 with respect to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 0.9% per year needs to increase to 6.2% per year and remain at that level until the year 2100 for emission volumes to be aligned with IPCC’s RCP2.6 scenario. In other words, the recent decarbonization rate of the global economy must increase by a factor of 7 to avoid exceeding a global temperature increase of 2 °C. (2) How can the current LCA practice of assessing environmental performance relative to a reference product be improved to support decisions on the path to environmental sustainability? How can we ensure that LCA is not used to legitimize a business as usual situation of incremental and insufficient eco-efficiency improvements?
“DTU Management Engineering, Quantitative Sustainability Assessment, Technical University of Denmark, Produktionstorvet,
Building 424, 2800 Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark”
Copyright: doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.5b02106 © The Author(s) 2015