What’s more important than Life Cycle Innovation?
Recently we saw the announcement of a new membership organisation which promises us the be “the voice of the LCA community”. It will be focusing on growing the market for LC based approaches, through advocacy, market expansion and what is called “advancing application”. LCA definitely needs to keep innovating and rethinking, so we agree on that. But, are the priorities set by this initiative right?
Need For Innovation
I would first like to congratulate the founders and initiators, who must have worked hard to prepare all this and produce this very professional website. When I heard the name, I thought: ‘Great! Life Cycle Innovation is what we need. We need to be innovative and reinvent ourselves in the way we develop and apply LCA and life cycle thinking.’ The life cycle community is still a small and rather stagnant niche dominated by experts and academics. We’re still debating 20-year-old problems, while other communities are far more successful in inspiring industries to innovate sustainable products. To mention a few:
- Cradle to Cradle, now being surpassed by Circular Economy. Although it lacks what we think is most valuable – a robust assessment method – it is a great source of inspiration for many proactive companies, and it is all about life cycle thinking.
- Natural Capital. Although the methods used are weak and, what is worse, often completely un-transparent and proprietary, a lot of companies think it’s a great concept. It speaks a language companies think they understand. In essence it is about an impact assessment methodology based on monetisation, like EPS2000.
- Sustainable Brands. This very active community of marketing experts is developing really innovative ways to communicate about sustainability. Although our LCA language is not really appealing for them, they are convinced that some kind of metric is needed.
I could mention more examples of communities that are becoming far more relevant to business than we have become in 25 years. So let’s indeed reinvent LCA, catch up with these popular developments, and adjust to these new needs and requirements. We can use our skills and experiences to make these new developments more robust, more science-based and more transparent. What’s not to like, right?
But wait, when I look what the FSLCI wants to do, I realise they want to do the opposite. They do not want us to innovate, but rather to stick to the traditional LCA approach, defend LCA and tell others they should use LCA. Look how most of the planned activities are directed inwards: conference management, an online platform, an interactive map of experts, building partnerships within the LC community (apparently not outside), links to scientific journals, etc. Only one activity seem to have an inside out direction, and that is the ambition to increase visibility. However, this seems to be focussing on ‘highly visible public figures’ that will promote us. That’s not intended for our real clients: LCA is good for you because experts say so….
Are The Priorities Right?
In my view, the priorities in choosing the activities are exactly wrong in several ways, which I will like to further explain:
In my opinion, this organisation will only further isolate the LC community, making it an even more closed community that is too happy with itself, its procedures and its ISO standards. If you ask me, communication to the outside world should be outside in. Instead of talking about how great we are, I advocate to do the opposite: focus on listening, and try to find out why the LCA community lacks the success others have.
Another worrying sign is the lack of focus on business. None of the activities seem to relate or even refer to business concerns or business people. And there’s a final point that makes me worried: FSLCI proclaims to be the ‘voice of the LC community’. But do we even have a voice? Has the LCA community not been hopelessly divided for many decades? Haven’t we proven that we can’t even agree on trivial things like a format, and are we not divided over the usefulness of PEF? In my view, PEF is a brilliant and promising initiative that might make LCA really relevant, because it forces us to innovate and connect to real societal needs. Others have heavily criticised it for not being ISO compliant. I wonder what the FSLCI will say about the PEF….
Call To Change Course
So, to me, it is great to have something like the FSLCI, but not with this charter, and with these planned activities. I call on everybody who will be a member to address this and try to get it to change course: to engage with our clients in businesses and governments, and give them a role or perhaps even put them in the lead. Engage with the very appealing other developments I mentioned, and see how we can help them to get some kind of a scientific basis. Do not preach that LCA is good for you, but listen, learn and understand, and use this as a basis to innovate. That way, FSLCI may really do what the name suggests: innovate life cycle thinking.
Do You Want To Follow Up Or Exchange Ideas?
Please contact Mark.
‘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.’