A4.7.8 Life Cycle Thinking


Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) seeks to identify possible improvements to goods and services in the form of lower environmental impacts and reduced use of resources across all life cycle stages.

This begins with raw material extraction and conversion, then manufacture and distribution, through to use and/or consumption. It ends with re-use, recycling of materials, energy recovery and ultimate disposal.

The key aim of LCT is to avoid burden shifting. This means minimising impacts at one stage of the life cycle, or in a geographic region, or in a particular impact category, while helping to avoid increases elsewhere. For example, saving energy during the use phase of a product, while not increasing the amount of material needed to provide it.

For many years, reducing environmental impacts focused on production processes, treatment of waste and effluent streams. This remains important. These actions help, for example, to successfully address the issues of reducing air and water pollution from a specific operation. However, this does not necessarily reduce the negative environmental impacts related to the consumption of materials and resources. It also does not account for the shifting of burdens – solving one problem while creating another. Solutions therefore may not be optimal and may even be counter-productive.

LCT provides a broader perspective. As well as considering the environmental impacts of the processes within our direct control, attention is also given to the raw materials used, supply chains, product use, the effects of disposal and the possibilities for re-use and recycling.

Taking a life cycle perspective requires a policy developer, environmental manager or product designer to look beyond their own knowledge and in-house data. It requires cooperation up and down the supply chain. At the same time, it also provides an opportunity to use the knowledge that has been gathered to gain significant economic advantages.

Since Life Cycle Thinking can be involved in the choices of individual consumers, as well as policy makers and businesses, it is very important that people are well informed about the subject and its uses.

After consideration of all available options, LCT would encourage selection of the most sustainable option. If more individuals practiced LCT when looking for new materials or methods, they would be more aware of how the environmental cost of ownership of products can be influenced by the running costs in energy and consumable

Since the decisions of global businesses and government organizations have such a large impact on the environment, incorporating LCT into their actions could greatly reduce negative environmental effects and improve sustainability. Many businesses do not always consider their supply chains or the “end-of-life” processes associated with their products; likewise, government actions frequently consider their own country or region and do not take into account the impact that they could have on other region.

Not only could Life Cycle Thinking help the environment, it can also save the company more money and improve their reputation. If a company knows where their materials come from as well as where they will end up after they have reached the end of their useful life, economic performance could be further enhanced. Also, since presently so much emphasis is placed on sustainable actions, the more a company shows its concern and respect for the environment, the better its reputation will be.


One method of LCT is Lifecycle Assessment (LCA). More information on LCA is contained within Unit C5 Life Cycle Analysis.