Having an understanding of environmental sustainability of the complete life cycle of products and services Is becoming Imperative for organizations so they can comply with environmental standards and to meet the growing public expectation regarding the organization's role in managing their environmental impacts.
But this is a complex matter and this essay critically appraises Life Cycle Assessment (LLC) as a tool to provide decision-making support in improving production processes in order to minimizes their environmental Impacts. The definition of LLC, a review of its application In Industry and advantages will be discussed first to form a basis for Its critical evaluation. The usefulness of this tool and Its potential Limitations and weaknesses in terms of applicability, standardization, cost, complexity and requirements of expertise will be considered.
As an example, the role of LLC in improving the environmental impact of milk production system will be used. In literature LLC Is defined as a systematic approach to analyses the environmental burden through the whole life cycle of a specific product or service that In turn helps o reduce that environmental burden by triggering areas of Improvement so that better technologies, product materials and process options can then be adopted (Roy et al. 2009; ISO 1997, AAA; The Finnish Environment Institute, 2010).
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To critically appraise LLC it is imperative to see its application in a specific sector so milk production Is considered. Milk production Involves live stock, agriculture, dairy farming, dairy packaging and distribution (Household et al. , 2003). These systems are highly inter-related and their combined effect is very complex for the LLC first phase of boundary allocation. Milk is not produced in isolation but production of cheese, court and butter is also uses the similar inventory and production system that make it difficult to identify the system boundaries (Hospice et al. 2003). Multi-product system and difficulty of LLC in allocation of system boundaries Is also discussed by Warden et al. (2012) that relates the outcomes of LLC with allocation. In studies, contribute to transportation, packaging waste and CA emissions respectively (Thomas et al. , 2008). Roy et al. (2009) declare LLC as useful tool for various food industries that helps to reduce environmental load by suggesting alternate reduction, processing, packaging, and distribution and consumption patterns.
LLC also provides quantitative information that ultimately helps to provide stakeholders with information about company steps that have been practically taken to minimizes the environmental impacts of their production activities (Roy et al. , 2009). However there are various issues like generalization of LLC results, its cost and time intensiveness, the required expertise, difficulties in allocation of system boundaries and lack of standardization in its methodology that are imperative to resolve before adopting this methodology (Reap et al, 2008).
The complex interacting nature of the environment and highly different environmental scenarios in different industries and countries also affect the usefulness of LLC. For example, in a review by Rossi (2004) of the LLC of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic across its lifestyle found that LLC quantitative methodology is highly subjective to data collection which can mislead the outcomes and in toxic chemical determination LLC is cannot provide accurate measurement. This implies that pesticides, antibiotics and detergents should be carefully analyses as part of the farm impacts and should be considered as a 'hot spot' in milk production (Hogwash
Aide, 2002). Defining functional units is very important and errors can arise due to assigning functional units to multiple functions and when handling non-quantifiable functions (Cooper, 2003). However in milk production functional units are quantifiable but not standardized across various studies so that it is difficult to compare different results (Gao, 2012; Hogwash Aide, 2002). Similarly, boundary selection is subjective that could lead to less confidence in comparative studies of LLC (Such et al. , 2004).
For example, in milk production if the packaging waste and the production of feed at the arm is ignored, that can generate highly different findings regarding environmental impacts. Omitting social and economic considerations in defining the goal and scope of LLC has also brought criticism that technical improvements cannot remove the need to make socially influenced decisions (Reap et al. , 2008). Therefore the lack of environmental and economic integration in LLC methodology can miss opportunities or limit the influence of LLC in decision making, especially in private sector (Norris, 2001).
To conclude, despite the limitations and inability of LLC to incorporate social and economic factors in relation to product life cycle assessment, it is still a useful and highly established and adopted methodology for the analysis of environmental impacts. However it is difficult to implement LLC in small scale firms due to its cost, time intensive nature and required expertise in executing LLC. Standardization of methodologies and generalization of results is also a natural flaw in this approach due to highly different environmental condition and technological use by organizations.
However in milk production, LLC as been very successfully applied in any countries as it allows boundaries to be set and also the selection of functional widely used in the whole dairy industry and results are being used to minimizes the environmental impacts especially when selecting chemicals, packaging, transport and feeding. Finally, it is concluded that there are no other alternative highly established methods of finding a product or services environmental impacts than LLC but economic and social considerations should be involved in this process to make it more useful in improving environmental impacts.
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