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Achieving Our Environmental Sustainability Goals: The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Applying Life Cycle Thinking
CURRAN, M. A. Achieving Our Environmental Sustainability Goals: The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Applying Life Cycle Thinking. Presented at International Conference on Green and Sustainable Innovation, Chiang Rai, THAILAND, December 02 - 04, 2009.
To inform the public.
An increasing number of people around the world are beginning to realize that a systems approach, such as life cycle thinking, is necessary to truly achieve environmental sustainability. Without the holistic perspective that life cycle thinking provides, our actions risk leading to unintended, often unfavorable, consequences. Many examples of unintended consequences can be easily found in the open literature. Time Magazine recently recognized Life Cycle Assessment as one of ten ideas that are changing the world right now (March 23, 2009). The use of a life cycle view has become very popular in the United States, in both the private and public sectors, to help us better understand our infinitely connected world with finite resources. Several drivers are behind this increased attention, including the increased awareness to address global climate change, the development of the WalMart index to rate products’ environmental impact, and a general desire by product manufacturers to be ‘green.’ Although an international standard for Life Cycle Assessment exists in ISO 14040, the use of the term “life cycle assessment” is being used by different groups to mean different things. For example, policy makers are promoting life cycle greenhouse gas assessments. The application of life cycle thinking to nanotechnology led to the creation of a Nano Risk Framework. While these tailored LCA approaches provide valuable information, they risk overlooking other valuable information that should also be considered in the decision-making process. The concept of the carbon footprint comes from LCA, but a deep analysis looks at far more. This presentation will address the drivers behind using life cycle thinking to achieve our sustainability goals and outline the opportunities as well as the pitfalls that we face as we move forward.