Why any sustainable packaging strategy must include life cycle assessment analysis (LCA)
Consumers want sustainable products and are willing to pay more for them - that's the finding of a recent survey by Accenture, and the numbers speak volumes. Of the 6,000 people who took part in the study, 83% think it's important to design products to be recycled; 72% say they're currently buying more eco-friendly products than five years ago; 81% expect to buy more over the next five years.
There's more. A new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by the WWF, shows a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods in 2016-2021 and a 16% increase in public concern. For 66% of respondents and 75% of millennials, even the simplest purchase must take the environment into account. For Gen Z, climate change is the number one concern .
The World Economic Forum calls it “the global eco-wakening” . It is a worldwide trend, growing in both developed and developing economies - including China, where 41% of consumers favor eco-friendly products . Indeed, the demand for a sustainable future is not limited by geography, socioeconomic background or age group. It's all-embracing. 136 countries and 681 companies have already committed to net zero emissions by 2050 .
Which begs the question: how to move from theory to practice? How do we build a carbon-neutral world?
If you're a packaging manufacturer, the first step is to measure the ecological toll of your products. And the way to do that is through life cycle assessment, or LCA.
LCA: what it is and why it’s so important
LCA is a data-driven methodology to estimate the environmental impacts of a product during its entire life cycle. It goes through four steps: establishing the goal and scope of the study; taking a life cycle inventory; conducting a life cycle impact assessment; and interpreting the results to make a business decision .
All in all, it's a holistic approach that looks at the problem from every angle, including raw material extraction, components manufacturing, assembly, energy use, end-of-life recycling and disposal.
Most importantly, LCA is not only carbon footprinting. While carbon footprinting only takes into account one environmental impact category, LCA involves analyzing a web of interconnected factors, evaluating their grade of correlation and relative tradeoffs. An estimation of a product's carbon footprint, in other words, is only one of the several results of an LCA study.
Whereas footprinting may suggest to empower a certain area of the business, potentially to the detriment of another, LCA provides a comprehensive environmental vision that no other tool can give.
Why LCA is necessary for a reliable sustainability claim
According to ISO 14021 , “an environmental claim is defined as a statement, symbol or graphic that indicates any environmental aspect of a product, a component or packaging”. The thing is, without an LCA, there's always the risk of providing unsufficient or ambiguous information. Under European and US law, poorly substantiated sustainability claims are illegal.
Greenwashing is also an issue to be aware of. While a lot of companies are going green, some are just deceiving their customers with fake marketing. Either through selective disclosure or symbolic actions, green washers bank on the sustainability revolution at the expense of eco-conscious companies and customers. That's why LCA is the gold standard when it comes to sustainability claims. Transparency is key. Quoting Forbes, "Life cycle assessment (LCA) and an environmental product declaration (EPD) can both help assess the impact of a product and then disclose that information to be transparent regarding its impact ."
How IPI’s LCA works - the case study of reVIVO
A remarkable example of product sustainability enabled by a life cycle assessment is reVIVO. Designed by IPI, reVIVO is a line of more environmentally sustainable packaging solutions that recently underwent multiple LCA analyses, all of them compliant with standard UNI EN ISO 14040 and ISO 14044, certified by CSQA.
The LCA study was instrumental in the case of reVIVO, showing a breakdown of CO2 produced by a brick during its entire life cycle: 50% came from raw materials, 7% from transportation, 17% from wrapping and filling, 6% from printing and converting, while 16% was produced at the product’s end-of-life. More than anything, the analysis allowed IPI to devise a plan to build more sustainable bricks.
All IPI bricks, including those of the reVIVO product line, are about 70% paperboard, which can come from FSC® certified forests. Moreover, IPI is also certified against the ASI Performance Standard for the responsible management of aluminum.
The reVIVO product range, though, goes one step further.
In order to offset CO2 emissions even more, IPI decided to substitute part of the fossil-based polymers in the cap and multilayer structure with sugar cane-based biopolymers. In fact, the reVIVO product range employs plant-based polyethylene, which makes the packaging more responsible as well as renewable up to 90%. This is proven by certified LCA studies showing that the carbon footprint of the 500 ml Caliz of the reVIVO product line, featuring the distinctive Twist cap, is 10.2% lower.
On top of this, the use of sugar cane-based biopolymers also enables a process called biogenic carbon, where wood and sugar cane continuously absorb CO2 while growing, resulting in a significantly larger reduction of CO2 emissions than with traditional bricks - even larger than the abovementioned 10.2%.
IPI also developed an ad-hoc software, Eco-brick, that the company now uses to evaluate its entire product portfolio as well as for driving the design of new eco-friendly solutions, in line with IPI’s vision of a low-carbon circular economy.
In short, LCA is the gift that keeps on giving.
And you? Do you really want to go green? Contact us.
CSQA Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) critical review statement in compliance with the standard UNI EN ISO 14040 and ISO 14044