Rediscovering LCA, twice in one week
Sustainability communities and LCA desperately need to re-connect | Mark goedkoop, founder of PRé, visited two conferences in the UK in one week, and discovered how two new communities are developing that LCA people really need to know about.
Life cycle assessment is very much a community-based endeavour. Together, we develop our methods, strategies and databases. A well-connected LCA expert is more effective, and every sustainability community needs LCA experts if they want quantifiable results. Last week, I visited two conferences in the UK. There I discovered how two new communities are developing that LCA people really need to know about.
Sustainability communication without life cycle assessment: will we let this happen?
Sustainable Brands is a thriving new community who exchange great ideas on how to deal with sustainability in Marketing Communication. Their recent conference in London drew over 400 Marketing and Communication executives and their consultants. The contrast with LCA conferences could not be bigger. Only a single presenter dared to present a 4 by 5 matrix of quantitative data, and he said apologetically: “This is only for the number crunchers.” Hardly anyone else presented even a single number.
They all talked about storytelling, not about logos, labels and claims. In fact, the dominant attitude of really proactive companies is: “Do not even talk explicitly about sustainability in a business to consumer context. It simply does not work!” Sustainability labelling and life cycle analysis are being left out of sustainability communication, even though we have much to offer.
Coming from the LCA field, I again realized how disconnected the LCA community is from the people who really determine what happens with our knowledge. Most LCA consultants are worried about greenwashing. Most LCA consultants believe in sustainability labelling. Wake up! The people who are supposed to use labels do not want them, and they aren’t even tempted to use false claims. If valid claims do not work to increase market share, they understand that false claims will really not work.
LCA experts need to show how we can contribute to sustainability communication, and to do so, we need to get back in touch with what’s really important to these movers and shakers.
Calculating the true cost of a product: NOT a new paradigm
Two days later, I visited the World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh, organized by the Scotish Wildlife Trust, and supported by organisations such as: WBCSD, UNEP, IUCN among other. Another great conference, with 400 high-level business sustainability managers, researchers and consultants. But no LCA people.
The movement represented here is a result of the Rio +20 conference. It was especially inspired on the PUMA environmental profit and loss publication, in which PUMA showed how much money they made by destroying natural capital in their production process. The idea behind this publication is that if every company were clear about what they destroy, it would be possible to give the true cost or true price of a product.
At the conference, AKZO and Kering (the mother company of PUMA) gave brilliant LCA presentations, but virtually nobody else talked about LCA. When talking to people, people were surprised to hear about Bengt Steen, who already published his EPS method in 1990. EPS does exactly what the people in this movement want: tying life cycle assessment results to monetary values. Most people seem to be convinced that LCA is a thing of the past and that assessing the monetary value of the production of products is a new paradigm.
Connecting LCA to new silos in the sustainability field
With one exception, I saw nobody from the LCA community in either conference. These are new silos in the sustainability field. Judging by the presentations at these conferences, these movements need access to life cycle assessments to inform their approaches to sustainability labelling and communication. But we are not connected to them. I am really worried.
LCA experts must connect. We have to stop useless debates that scare away all other sustainability communication debates, which is why we must reinvent ourselves. At PRé we are investing in those connections, and will continue to do so. Please join us.
Mark Goedkoop, Founder of PRé
‘When I established PRé in 1990 I ran a design consultancy, then I decided to do ecodesign. But, how do I tell the good from the bad? And how can I measure ‘eco’? So I started on a journey together with a few pioneers in the emerging LCA scene and gave up designing. I realized then that these same questions need to be answered by any company embarking on the route to more sustainable products and services, preferably in a scientific, honest, and businesslike way. Providing good transparent tools, data, and methodologies to empower organizations to make the transition to sustainability, that is my drive.’