Introduction to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Lisa Powers
EVP, Public Affairs & Communications, Personal Care Products Council

Increasing demands from stakeholders for improved environmental performance and transparency appear to be fueling the recent peak of interest in life cycle assessment (LCA). As more companies, both large and small, make commitments toward a more sustainable future, science-based tools like LCA help them chart a strategic course forward and, more importantly, objectively measure progress.

Life cycle assessment is a multi-staged, detailed process of identifying and measuring the inputs that go into making something and the outputs that occur as a result. It’s a valuable tool for understanding how impacts occur as a result of the materials used throughout the value chain, from cradle to grave. Despite its highly technical nature, a growing number of marketing and sustainability executives (not just supply chain or process engineering professionals) are commissioning LCA studies, recognizing the opportunity to drive both business and social value.

While LCA can be used in a variety of applications, the most common are:

  • Identifying greatest impacts along a supply chain;
  • Establishing a baseline for improvement;
  • Making meaningful comparisons of like, but not identical, objects;
  • Helping guide a product or process development;
  • Telling a product story; or
  • Supporting product environmental declarations.

Earlier this month, PCPC hosted the third webinar in its sustainability series, introducing the concept of LCA to member companies. This series is intended to advance the capabilities, know-how and understanding of sustainability best practices among PCPC members. Judging by the questions posed during the webinar, life cycle assessment is a topic of growing interest to our member companies.

Guest speakers Dr. Jim Fava and Dr. John Heckman, both executive directors at Anthesis, shared their 60+ years of combined experience working with LCA. In addition to providing a brief history on LCA’s development and real-life examples of its potential applications, their presentation provided a simple explanation of the phases, or steps in the LCA process, and stages, which are tied to aspects of the product life cycle (see below). Fava and Heckman also shared their perspective on widely used LCA software tools, and the types of human health, ecosystem and resource impact categories most commonly measured as outputs in LCA.

Many PCPC member companies are well versed in LCA. Some have been exposed to the principles through their membership in the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics (SPICE), whose life cycle assessment, eco-design webtool was demonstrated during an earlier webinar. Others have invested in low-cost or open-source tools for non-experts that provide decision making support in procurement or product design.

Member companies recognize the growth of LCA-based ecolabels and other stakeholder pressures to better manage limited resources and any impacts created along the value chain. Science-based tools, whether used in calculating greenhouse gas emission reductions or facilitating a choice between different packaging materials, provide a data-informed approach to decision making and a credible way forward for all companies on a sustainability journey.

Climate Leadership in the Beauty and Personal Care Industry

Lisa Powers
EVP, Public Affairs & Communications, Personal Care Products Council

This week, CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), one of the most comprehensive and globally respected sustainability reporting platforms, released the 2020 scores for disclosures on climate change management. More than 9,600 companies – a record number – disclosed their performance and progress, a 17% increase over last year and a 70% increase since the signing of the Paris Accord in 2015. 

With the publication of CDP’s annual scores, stakeholders can learn more about how companies are incorporating sustainability into their business strategy and practices, as well as how they are addressing climate change. Scores are awarded from A to D- based on the comprehensiveness of disclosure, awareness and management of environmental risks. The scores also consider best practices associated with environmental leadership, such as setting ambitious and meaningful targets. CDP measures performance on climate change, forests and water security.

Of the companies reporting to CDP this year, 270 achieved CDP’s climate change “A” list, compared to 179 in 2019. Several members of the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) – Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive Company, The Estée Lauder Companies, Firmenich, Givaudan, International Flavors & Fragrances, Johnson & Johnson, Kao Corporation, Kering, L’Oréal, Symrise and Unilever – were among the companies with the highest scores.

CDP, the gold standard in environmental reporting, presents several benefits to companies disclosing their environmental impact. Companies can build stakeholder trust through greater transparency and enhance their reputation by responding to public concerns about the environment. The process of reporting also helps companies identify emerging environmental risks and opportunities and stay ahead of regulatory reporting requirements. Action on environmental management is desperately needed.

In September, a new multi-agency report from leading science organizations, United in Science 2020, was released and indicated that although emission saw a temporary decline attributed to the pandemic lockdown, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record levels and continue to rise. The report also acknowledges that the world has seen its warmest five years on record and is not on track to meet agreed targets to keep global temperature increase well below 2 °C, or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels as deemed critical in the Paris Accord. Climate change is impacting all eco-systems, from mountains to oceans, accelerating sea-level rise and posing a significant threat to human life.

The need for climate action has never been more pressing. The beauty and personal care industry is committed to being part of the solution. Through transparent disclosures of its approach to managing climate impacts created along the value chain and by setting ambitious, science-based goals to GHG emissions mitigation, our industry continues to demonstrate its leadership. In addition to reporting to CDP annually, many of PCPC’s member companies have also made commitments to science-based targets, which align with the goals of the Paris Accord and provide a clearly-defined pathway to reduce GHG emissions.

We cannot wait for government to lead the way on climate change. The private sector has a fundamental role to play in reducing GHG emissions, and I am proud to be part of an industry that is leading the way.