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LUAS, Faculty of Technology                                                            2010

Sakari Autio

ASSIGNMENT - STUDY A LIFE CYCLE OF A PRODUCT

 

 

Some background and guidelines for a teacher and students:

 

  • This assignment is based in cooperation projects with several companies (small and medium size enterprices, SME) who wanted to develop their products and competitiveness from environmental point of view. In those projects the time limit and budget was tight - as many times with SME´s. The solution is to study the life cycle of particular product from different points of views by using existing solution models.
  • The question is about qualitative life cycle assessment but it can include significant amount of numeral information, calculations etc. It is important to learn to describe the life cycle of the product and to determine relevant environmental aspects related to different phases of that life cycle. Thorough LCA based on ISO standard is in most cases not possible with SME´s not only because of the limited resources, time and skills but also because of the limitations of LCA-methodologies. 
  • This assignment can be a basis or a part for a 3-4 month course (5-10 ECTS). You can use the whole assignment for the groups of 2-3 students or just some parts of it. The assignment can also be shared to different groups when the outcomes can be quite much more detailed. Students will need support from the teacher to be able to go through the whole assignment, at least discussions and moderation is necessary.  
  • The objective is to use learning by doing method to analyze in a systematical way the environmental aspects connected with the different stages of a product's life cycle.
  • The focus is in one product or service or their combination.
  • If it is recommendable to cooperate with a company. This study can be seen as a primary phase when examining product´s life cycle. The evaluation process can also lead to graduation works.
  • This kind of approach can be utilized for product development, marketing, bench marking etc. purposes.
  • The outcomes can be reported, presented and discussed for a bigger group of students and company´s representatives. Discussion is essential in identifying uncertainties of the study and way forward.


One result of using this kind of assignement in cooperation with a company you can have a look on an article about developing a sofa from environmental point of view:  http://www.digipaper.fi/pirkka/59819/index.php?pgnumb=22  

Unfortunatelly the language is in Finnish but if you are really interested the text can be roughly translated by google. 

Stages of the assignment:

1.  Choose a product and define the objective for the assessment

  • Choose a product, e.g. a piece of furniture, an electric appliance, an item of clothing, bread etc. Note that normally it is question about familiar mass products for daily use.
  • Describe the basic information of the product.
  • Define the objective of your study. The primary objective can be for example "find means to develop an "Eco-Chair" or "make proposals to improve the life cycle of a product from environmental point of view". In many cases the final objective will become more exact during the project.
  • Decide the scoping of your study on the basis of the time available. Will you (your group) focus on all stages of the life cycle of the case product? Will you focus on some certain environmental aspects? Will you go through the whole of this assignment or just some parts of it?
  • If possible, cooperate with a company that you know or choose for analysis some familiar everyday product that you use yourself.

2.  Describe the life cycle of the product, describe the product system   

  • Describe / draw the main elements of product's life cycle: raw material sources, manufacturing, storing and sales, use and maintenance, recycling and waste management. The visual representation is to include the different stages of the product's life cycle, examples of important environmental considerations, information on transportation, etc.
  • Make a list of the rest of the product system. What other products or services are needed to produce the case-product or achieve the desired outcome or benefit?
  • Find and list information sources, publications and links that you can use when determining life cycle information.

3.  Examine the material content of the product

  • Next phase is to find out which materials is the product made up of? This is an essential starting point when studying the life cycle of the product. The material content of the product in case for example defines relevant environmental requirements of EU-flower, which is the official environmental label of European Union.
  • Measure/estimate the materials that the product contains, as well as their quantities. If necessary, take the product to pieces, determine the materials and weigh/assess their weight, insert the information into a table. When determining the materials you may need help from experts of e.g. plastics, metals, or textiles.
  • What are the relevant environmental aspects and impacts related the raw materials of the product? Like non renewable or recyclable materials, biodiversity issues, emissions of the production or something else? What could be environmentally better options of the used materials?  

  

4.      Study the environmental/sustainability aspects connected with the product's life cycle

  • What are the environmental/sustainability aspects related the different phases of the life cycle of "your" product in case? This is very wide question and it is useful to apply some commonly used classifications for the analysis. One option is to use so called MET-matrix which takes into consideration Material and Energy consumption and different Toxic emissions during the life cycle.   
  • You can use the METT+ matrix (extended MET-matrix) to analyze the environmental aspects of the product's life cycle. It may be reasonable to limit a detailed part of your analysis to 2-3 blocks of the matrix (see matrix annex).
  • What may be the some of the most significant environmental aspects and which phase of the life cycle they are related? Note that also social responsibility issues may be important.

5.      Study if there are environmental requirements of EU-flower (or Nordic Swan or Blue Angel) related to the product in case

  • EU-flower is the official environmental label of the European Union
  • Find out if there are eco-label requirements for the product (EU-flower/Nordic Swan/Blaue Angel). Note: Definition of the relevant requirements is in some cases based on the material content of the product (phase 2 of this assignment)
  • Present some examples of environmental requirements
  • EU-flower requirements for different product groups you can find from the address:  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/ecolabelled_products/product_categories_en.htm
  • You can also find out if there are any so called BAT-documents related with the production process or materials of the case-product. (BAT means Best Available Technics)
  • How you can utilize the EU-flower and it´s environmental requirements in design or marketing of the product?


6.  Determine the material footprint of the product (MIPS analysis)

  • This part is done also based on the product's material information. Material footprint (MIPS) focuses on consumption of natural resources.    
  • If you want to conduct this part you can find "Calculation MIPS" guidebook attached into materials of this work package. Practical guidance, calculation sheets and Material Intensity Factors can also be found from following addresses: http://www.wupperinst.org/en/projects/topics_online/mips/index.html or www.mips-online.fi
  • Calculate the product's material input (MI = material input) i.e. consumption of natural resources. In first hand you could concentrate on only one gategory of natural resources (abiotic) of the five different gategories which are: abiotic and biotic resources, water, air and moved ground (erosion).
  • Describe the benefit / service (S = service unit) provided by the product. Benefit / service can be the working time, number of users, kg of washed laundry, transported kilometers etc. Definition of the Service unit depends on the focused product.
  • Consider / present ways to decrease Material Input (MI) and/or increase the benefit/service (S) you get from the product. For this there are presented different strategies in the material.

7.   Compare the life cycle information provided by other producers, do benchmarking

  • Study the websites of producers of the similar kind of products. How do they present the environmental information of corresponding products, and give examples of the practices of a few companies.
  • Does the information provided by the companies cover the different stages of the life cycle in a balanced way?
  • Do some benchmarking between the producers.  

8.      Create ideas for more ecological / sustainable product development

  • When creating ideas of improvement possibilities, you can apply previous phases of this assignment.
  • As an additional guideline can used the 7 Elements of Eco-efficiency presented by World Business Counsil for Sustainable Development. ADD HERE
  • Take into consideration also the social sustainability aspects. ADD HERE

9.      Communicate the sustainability of the product / service

  • How to combine the information into communication procedures of the company?
  • Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
  • Eco-labeling of the product
  • Environmental Reporting, (See more about the reporting in other parts of the Rebel materials, WP4)
  • Use of broshures, articles, internet etc.

Additional ideas about topics to be examined

  • Define the Carbon foot print of the product. An ISO-standard for carbon foot print is under preparation and should be ready 2011.

Ideas for products to be analyzed:

  • furniture
  • lighting equipment
  • clothes / textiles
  • food products
  • simple electrical appliances, such as hair dryer, toaster
  • big tools in homes and gardens
  • electronics (Note: it's often hard to find out what materials there are made of)
  • bicycle
  • etc.


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