LIFE CYCLE THINKING PHILOSOPHY
The practice of improving the sustainability performance of products has evolved from focusing on the attributes of a product from a consumer perspective—Does it have recycled content? Is it recyclable? Is it over-packaged? Does it have any safety issues?—to viewing the product across its entire life cycle.
From the origins of a product’s raw materials to the end of a product’s useful life, BWE seeks to understand the environmental and social ramifications of its inputs and outputs:
- Resources from the earth including air, water, minerals, ores, fossil fuels, biologicals, and more
- Materials such as chemical intermediates and products, refined metals, and synthesized bio-based substances
- Energy sources including electricity and thermal
- Products and by-products
- Unwanted emissions and wastes
We further analyze inputs and outputs to evaluate consequences such as human and eco-toxicity and climate change. We organize this information by life cycle stages to gain insight into opportunities for improving a product’s sustainability performance.
Using a cotton t-shirt as an example of a biological life cycle, the raw material stage involves growing the cotton; processing includes cotton ginning to separate the cotton fiber from the seed; manufacturing includes spinning yarn, making a knitted textile, and then sewing and finishing the t-shirt; distribution gets a finished shirt from the factory to the consumer; use and maintenance includes wearing, laundering, and repairing the t-shirt; end-of-useful-life stage encompasses reusing, recycling, composting, incinerating, or landfilling the t-shirt.
Strategies for improving a t-shirt across its life cycle might include organic and fair trade cotton production; use of renewable energy in ginning; less toxic, low water and energy dyeing methods; non-PVC printing; line-drying maintenance; and recycling the cotton fiber when the consumer is finished using the t-shirt.
Brown and Wilmanns Environmental uses a variety of life-cycle-based analytical methods to assist clients in understanding the sustainability issues associated with their products as well as to measure and track improvements.