Enabling the Circular Economy through LCA: Review of the 2023 LCANZ Summit
The 2023 LCANZ Summit was held at the John Lysaght co-working space at GridAKL in the Wynyard Quarter Auckland, on Thursday 30th March. The summit showcased a series of highly engaging speakers with case studies from industry and was followed by drinks and networking with speakers and participants.
The LCANZ Best Practice Working Group also presented an overview of their activities and future outlook – here is a link to their presentation: Best Practice Working Group_LCANZ Summit 2023
Enabling the Circular Economy through LCA
Professor Sarah McLaren – Director of the New Zealand Life Cycle Management Centre, and Professor in Life Cycle Management at Massey University
Sarah McLaren’s LCA and Circular Economy research focuses on development and application of LCA and related approaches such as planetary boundaries, industrial ecology, and the circular economy.
Sarah discussed the role of evaluative tools such as LCA in putting the circular economy into practice, and explained the evolution of life cycle thinking, from industrial ecology in the 1990’s, the Braungart and McDonough Cradle to Cradle activity and Ellen MacArthur Butterfly Diagram thinking in the noughties, through to the circular thinking of the 2020’s.
Circular economy can help us to address many problems of the times including material shortages, volatile prices, and ecological damage, and life cycle thinking plays a big part in going circular. Circular economy has become popular in recent years as governments seek to reorient their economies and regulatory interventions to address sustainability challenges.
The upside is the potential of reduced environmental impacts, expanded jobs, more local economic activity, but more focus is needed on the fundamental issue of designing-out waste. Greater use of ‘what-if’ optimisation scenarios is needed in future and the next LCA evolution needs to factor in the time-based consequences and life cycle impacts in the form of ‘dynamic LCAs’.
The biggest adventure of humanity – climate change
Dr. Florian Graichen – GM Scion Bioproducts and Biomanufacturing
Florian Graichen’s work covers high-value biorefineries, distributed and circular manufacturing, bioproducts and packaging and integrated bioenergy. These activities are directed at solving new product and process challenges and opportunities that arise through the transition to a circular bioeconomy.
Continents, countries, companies, and communities are at last waking up to climate change realities and we are very slow to realise them and react. We only have another six years or so till damage control is the only option.
We need to address the urgency of responding to climate change and biodiversity loss without missing the big opportunities that can come from a global transition to circular economics. The world is fast moving towards 10 billion people, and we will need to supply their needs from sustainable, not fossil, materials. We need to take a more people-centred approach to local economic development that works to produce broadly shared economic prosperity.
Florian’s main takeaways were:
- Share your sustainability success stories as widely as possible.
- Don’t focus on attaining perfection …‘Perfect is the enemy of the good’
- If you think small is inconsequential … ‘try sleeping with a mosquito’.
LCA and Circular Economy – Friends or foes?
Barbara Nebel – thinkstep-anz, and James Griffin – Sustainable Business Network
Barbara Nebel is CEO of thinkstep-anz. She enables organisations to succeed sustainably, and often describes her job as translating sustainability into traditional business language.
James leads the Sustainable Business Network activity to accelerate the circular economy in New Zealand. He has extensive commercial experience, having worked in large corporates, and has owned his own business.
In this talk, Barbara and James explored how LCA and the Circular Economy support each other, what they have in common and what are the key differences between approaches. The beginnings of LCA were described, when in 1969 Coca Cola commissioned the first substantive LCA study, investigating and quantifying the impacts of a very large decision in beverage packaging, bottles versus cans.
Is the need for quantification reserved for LCA? No. There are other approaches that could be included in the LCA+CE mix, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy quantification method, the Material Circularity Index (MCI). The MCI tool, which is part of a broader ‘Circular Indicators Project’, allows companies to identify additional, circular value from their products and materials, and mitigate risks from material price volatility and material supply. MCI enables users to analyse and evaluate a range of environmental, regulatory, and supply chain risks for their designs and products.
Additionally, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO Geneva) is working on the ISO TC 323 Circular Economy standard. This is the first and much anticipated International Standard for the circular economy and is due for release in early 2024.
The conclusion was ……. ‘LCA and CE are friends’ !
Using a life cycle approach to understand reusable packaging systems in Aotearoa
Kelly McClean – Reuse Aotearoa
Kelly McClean is specialist in systems design, circular economy strategies, bio-based materials, and sustainable design practice. She is an experienced innovation and sustainability project manager and consultant who has worked on a range of initiatives in the textiles, agriculture, FMCG, packaging and infrastructure sectors.
Kelly highlighted key findings from two recently published reports by Reuse Aotearoa, an independent organisation for building capability to scale reusable packaging systems in New Zealand. These reports captured current reusable packaging systems in New Zealand and discussed how Life Cycle Thinking can support the development of best practice.
Reusable packaging is more than just product or materials, it is part of a wider system that encourages participatory action and connection, through design. Reuse models require different life cycle considerations to single-use packaging solutions, and it is important these are well understood to avoid unintended consequences. These differences include design for durability and longevity, washing methods and transportation considerations.
Winstone Wallboards on a journey of continuous improvement
John Jamison – Technical and Development Manager, Winston Wallboards
John Jamison is the Technical and Development Manager for Winstone Wallboards, covering sustainability, product and system development. John has worked in the solutions side of the construction sector for many years, with interest in construction waste and the opportunities on how to reduce.
The construction sector in NZ is very wasteful, as 50% of all landfill is construction waste. We know we can all do better, but by how much? We need a ‘show me the numbers’ approach, so we can quantify the inputs and outputs and better understand the data and make tangible plans for continuous improvement. Also, we need waste minimisation clauses to be added to construction contracts in NZ.
Winstone Wallboards has been working for many years to understand the causes and potential interventions that can be implemented to reduce construction waste. A key initiative is the joint-venture project ‘Designing out waste’, a collaboration of Fletcher Building, AUT, BRANZ, and Auckland Council. John talked about the exploration of methods to give waste plasterboard a second life, looking for practical methods to recycle used product into new. The new Fletcher Building Winstone manufacturing plant in Tauranga can reprocess used plasterboard, with offcut recycling services, a reverse logistics approach to giving a second life for gypsum waste.
Quantifying the environmental performance of New Zealand avocados
Shreyasi Majumdar – Doctoral candidate at the New Zealand Life Cycle Management Centre, Massey University
Shreyasi Majumdar is a doctoral candidate at the New Zealand Life Cycle Management Centre, Massey University. Her research explores the potential for an environmental certification scheme in the horticulture industry, with a focus on the New Zealand avocado sector.
The New Zealand avocado sector has grown substantially over the past two decades, driven by increasing demands from export markets. Life Cycle Assessment was used to study the environmental impacts, of the New Zealand avocado sector, across selected Area of Interest (AoI) impact categories, through most of the life cycle. This was to determine the environmental hotspots within the value chain. Five impact categories are being studied, with the outcome that the LCA study will support industry moves towards a Circular Economy.
Shreyasi explained the structure of the study and how the results can help support continuous improvement in the sector’s environmental performance as well as encourage increased circularity in the value chain. She highlighted that the ‘goal and scope’ stage of an LCA is the most challenging step in the quantification process, and sensitivity analysis within the LCA can be useful to optimise process steps.
Some LCA study outcomes are:
- Airfreight transport has massive impacts and is to be avoided.
- Packaging is not identified as a major contributor.
- Process ‘waste’ can be productively reprocessed into avocado oil or for stockfeed.
- Future research potential is for ‘whole of orchard’ analysis, improved fertiliser data inputs, and more data on packhouse operations.
Can Life Cycle Thinking and the Circular Economy co-exist in a healthcare context?
Dr. Kimberley Savill and Ella Meisel – Fisher & Paykel Healthcare
Kimberley Savill is the Environmental Innovation Program Lead at F&P Healthcare and leads a Life Cycle Assessment group within the Ecodesign Program.
Ella Meisel is the Ecodesign Program Lead at F&P Healthcare supporting product development engineers to design products and packaging using LCA techniques.
The Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Ecodesign Program is focused on improving outcomes for both patients and the environment, through the design of sustainable medical respirator equipment and consumables for the worldwide healthcare sector, from manufacturing plants in Auckland and in Mexico. Kimberley and Ella explored how Circular Economy principles and Life Cycle Thinking inform the approach to Ecodesign at F&P and shape the work of over fifty engineers working on ecodesign projects.
Customer demand is the commercial driver for improved product environmental performance and the provision of explicit environmental information. The UK National Health Service is the most environmentally progressive client with a mandatory Net Zero procurement requirement by 2029. The general UK healthcare market will have mandatory carbon footprinting requirements by 2028, and Scandinavia is an important influence with progressive requirements for environmental performance and reporting.
Carbon footprint is the highest impact area for respirator equipment and related products, over the seven-year useful life. The manufacturing phase is a large part of the carbon footprint, embodied in materials, so extending product life is important. Respirator water heating is a major impact category, and the over-life impact of consumables and their packaging is also important. LCA is used as a tool for assessing the ‘complex systems’ of manufacturing and international supply chains, and optimising outcomes for the identified hot spots for example, via the use of recycled plastics. F&P make no marketing claims regarding product environmental credibility but simply provide robust information on the nature and performance of products and materials.
So, is there a conflict between Circular Economy and Life Cycle Thinking in healthcare products? No. They work in parallel to support evidence-based decision making in innovation for engineering and marketing.
Two sessions of moderated interactive Q+A panel discussions were held, with a wide range of viewpoints tabled. Some of the noteworthy takeaways were:
- Progressive business strategies regarding environmental aspects are key for company longevity. Remember the downfall of Kodak film, unable to navigate in the digital world.
- In future, could we see a taxation on material consumption?
- Disruptors are critical for progress and early-adopters are needed to champion the cause.
- Be careful of ‘carbon tunnel-vision’. There are many other environmental impact categories that also have significant effects.
- For product and service suppliers, many more customer questions will be coming to you. Good communication and environmental PR skills will be vital.
- The NZ MBIE Building for Climate Change (BfCC) programme will rapidly accelerate the need for environmental impact communication in NZ.
- With Circular Economy there is often an over-emphasis on End-of-Life strategies at the expense of important other phases.
- With some LCA’s, such as for long-lasting infrastructure assets, we need to consider the timing of the occurrence of the life cycle impacts.
- A next stage for LCA is the evolution of ‘Absolute Sustainability’(future) versus ‘Relative Sustainability’(current).
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