Guest column: The new normal; Life-cycle thinking

HomeColumnsGuest column: The new normal; Life-cycle thinking

Part II

by Derek Young

In part one, we discussed why companies should shift their corporate culture to life cycle assessment (LCA) with regard to sustainability and how it can help refine product design as it takes into account all phases of an item’s lifespan.

Now we will look at how other industries are applying life-cycle thinking to their every- day business and why designing products with durability and performance in mind provide a positive sustainability story.

The relevance and use of life cycle as a tool can be seen across industries and throughout the business community. Companies ranging from Georgia Pacific, GE, Dow and Johnson & Johnson all have in-house LCA experts.

According to Sergio Galeano, Georgia Pacific’s director of climate science and LCA, “The better understanding of sustainability and its practice across [GP] revealed the importance of the principled application of LCA for strategic thinking, product and process innovation and sustainability assessment.”

This is one example of how life-cycle thinking is becoming a fundamental tool for decision making on issues ranging from product development and design, to manufacturing, use and end of life. Life cycle thinking ensures a more robust focus on sustainability and will increasingly grow in importance as it is more widely integrated.

When using a cradle-to-grave boundary (an LCA that tracks a product from the point of creation until disposal) to evaluate the total energy consumed across the life cycle of a carpet, we see the energy (as expressed in kWh) required to produce one square yard is 79 kWh.

Since the majority of the energy consumption associated with a carpet’s life cycle is during its production, an effective approach to reducing its environmental impact is to extend the product’s potential use phase.

For example, in comparing the amount of energy required to produce carpets with 5-, 10- and 20-year replacement cycles, we see over a 20-year period the product with a 5-year cycle requires 345 kWh per square yard to produce, the 10-year product requires 190 kWh, and a 20-year carpet needs 110 kWh.

Therefore, the difference between a 5- and 20-year replacement cycle is about 235 kWh per square yard. The importance of durability is further demonstrated by a McGraw Hill survey In- vista commissioned this year. It found 56% of end-users believe their carpet is re- placed too soon. And, when asked about their satisfaction level, the most satisfied were able to keep their carpets for up to 14 years or longer.

This dispels the myth carpet needs to be replaced early and often and demonstrates there is a real market value for durable, high-performance products.

At Invista, our carpet fibers are designed to be recovered and recycled. Invista’s Performance Surface & Materials business recovers up to 99% of the nylon waste from its North American manufacturing processes and either recycles it or provides it to our engineering polymers business for additional uses. In carpet, ensuring we have a robust end-of-life strategy is fundamental to both product design and sustainability.

To be successful, smart companies must see the bigger picture when it comes to sustainability by taking the time to incorporate concepts and design products that increase value for consumers and improve quality of life.

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