In late August 2018 Ecomatters participated in the First Life Cycle Innovation Conference (LCIC2018), organized in Berlin by the Forum for Sustainability through Life Cycle Innovation, an independent organization of the LCA community that proactively promotes the uptake of Life Cycle information and approaches. The conference brought together a diverse crowd of researchers, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and decision-makers in order to drive the system approach to sustainable innovations. Among the key speakers and participants were representatives of the European Commission, research institutions such as TU Delft and Fraunhofer-Institut, large businesses such as BASF and Schlumberger, and LCA practitioners and innovations leaders. During the event, participants shared their perspectives on the latest developments in policies, research and practical solutions of using LCA for technological and social innovations applied to current global challenges.
The LCIC 2018 did not intend to highlight a particular theme but to focus on a call for actions to collaborate, innovate and co-create with both experts and the community as well as anyone interested in sustainability and systems thinking.
In the session devoted to Innovative Approaches to Sustainable Product Development, Max Sonnen, the managing director of Ecomatters, presented the results of the monetization-focused study performed for AkzoNobel. The study focused on the assessment of the full value chain of a book, from paper production to transport to customer, measuring the environmental, social and financial impacts. An economic value was attached to the positive and negative aspects of each impact, identifying risks and opportunities. Such an approach aims to include a deeper understanding of how businesses impact society at large across an entire value chain. It enables companies to better identify risks and opportunities, and ultimately to increase business value.
The presentation received high attention from the audience and the discussion that followed focused on the possibilities to make the approach more methodologically robust and on the perspectives that monetization could bring to the business and sustainable decision making by non-environmental professionals. Overall, it was noted that this tool opens opportunities for easier communication of product’s sustainability performance internally to management promoting sustainable choices in consumption and business development.
Major topics and interesting insights of the conference
Three main topics were running throughout the conference: current development of sustainable innovations and LCA, digitalization in sustainability, and LCA solutions to marine litter problem. It is exciting to see that the field is increasingly including in its agenda more on psychology, sociology, policy, big data, computer science, and tipping its toes even in blockchains. It is also interesting to notice that while the sustainable innovations in general have a market-driven motivation and are being pushed by policy and stakeholders, digitalization movements of LCA solutions seems to be led mostly by the practitioners, striving for reliable tools to work with small and big data in the global network. The conference has also shown that the life cycle perspective is becoming more evident for environmentalists from other fields: leading experts in marine plastic litter has already adopted the perspective and led the panel devoted to possibilities of LCA community to contribute to the problem solution.
Despite the need of further strengthening of LCA frameworks and advancing the tools, it is the soft side of LCA that turned to be the red thread of the conference. While there are already existing methodological and technological solutions for LCAs, it is necessary now to focus the main attention on the users of the assessments. The main issues lie in the sphere of clear understanding of the users’ needs, whether they are management, policy makers or general public, and of effectively communicating them the results and solutions of LCA analyses. As a consultancy that focuses on quantifying sustainability and going beyond the numbers in the assessments, we were happy to see high interest and the rapid movement of the community in this direction. We understand the high importance of further work in this direction, and looking forward to new projects and collaborations to contribute to it.