3rd NZ LCA Conference: From bean counting to business value


Source: thinkstep

The 3rd New Zealand Life Cycle Assessment Conference was a huge success. Held in Wellington from 2nd to 3rd September 2014, key themes included transforming LCA from bean counting to business value, the power of story-telling for sustainability communication, and taking LCA to the next level in Australasia. PE INTERNATIONAL supported through presentations, posters, and as a Gold Sponsor.

The conference was opened by its co-hosts, Sarah McLaren (Director of the New Zealand Life Cycle Management Centre and Associate Professor at Massey University) and Barbara Nebel (President of the Life Cycle Association of New Zealand and Managing Director of PE Australasia).

Key areas of business value

The first keynote address was from Jim Fava, PE’s Chief Sustainability Strategist. Often called the “Father of LCA” for his leadership role in establishing the technical framework for LCA, Jim demonstrated the importance of moving sustainability discussions from getting the right number to maximising sustainability’s business benefits. He illustrated the importance of translating sustainability initiatives into business terms by focusing on four key areas of business value: growing revenue, reducing costs, enhancing brand, and mitigating risks.

Balance simplicity and complexity

Next up was David Maslen from The New Zealand Merino Company. He spoke of the importance of story-telling: a great product without a story will usually perform poorly in the market, while an average product with a great story will often perform well. As LCA practitioners we are trying to create a great product, but as consumers and human beings we relate best to stories. David argued that you must balance simplicity and complexity in sustainability communication – to focus on a clear core message, but to have additional detail to back up this message for those who are interested. New Zealand Merino rely on LCA studies to provide this detail.

The sessions that followed in the first day focused on developments in LCA methodology and data. Nicole Sullivan (BlueScope Steel) and Julie Sandilands (PE) discussed the dangers of imposing allocation rules in EPDs. Katharina Bauch (PE) illustrated complementary features of corporate environmental reporting and product-level LCA.

EDP Programme for Australasia

A highlight of the first day’s programme was the launch of the Australasian Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) Programme. The first of its kind in Australasia, the Programme will accept EPDs across all product categories. It will help to ensure international harmonisation through its parent programme, the International EPD System in Sweden. For those in the building and construction sector, the Programme will act as a local operator for manufacturers who want their products to be eligible for the newly introduced EPD credits under Green Star (Australia). For more information, please visit http://www.epd-australasia.com.

Natasha Lewis from the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment initiated the proceedings on day two. She spoke of the centrality of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 to New Zealand environmental policy. Nathasha discussed the importance of product stewardship, as shown by its inclusion within the Government’s Business Growth Agenda.

Drivers for LCA

Rob Rouwette of the Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society (ALCAS) presented his vision for taking LCA to the next level in Australasia. He spoke of drivers for LCA – particularly in the building and construction sector – such as the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA). However, despite these drivers, he argued that the playing field is currently uneven due to huge variations in data quality among different LCA databases and tools. Rob believes that ALCAS and LCANZ have a role to play in levelling the playing field. He argued that one way of achieving this is by helping to ensure a high data quality and coherence through AusLCI, the Australian National Life Cycle Inventory Database. Another way is through practitioner certification, where an Australasian programme is currently being established in partnership with the American Centre for Life Cycle Assessment (ACLCA).

The sessions that followed on the second day focused on the use of LCA in policy-making, harmonisation of LCA practice, and the application of LCA to the primary and construction sectors. Jeff Vickers presented on a recent European project that identified and quantified resource efficiency improvements in the built environment and discussed lessons for New Zealand. PE’s Barbara Nebel and Sebastian Gollnow illustrated the links between the growing number of international standards and recommendations for LCA around the world.

Beyond tools and data

The closing panel discussion highlighted one of the most important messages from the conference: that LCA must move – and is moving – from bean counting to business value. “How can we make LCA mainstream?” was the overarching question. Jim Fava gave a simple answer: “It’s not just about tools and data, but if we can demonstrate the business value, companies will take it up”.

For more information about the conference, or for copies of PE’s papers or posters, please contact Jeff Vickers (j.vickers@pe-international.com).

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