Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases. “Green” products line the shelves in just about every type of store for customers to purchase and carry home in their re-usable shopping bag. While the shift to more environmentally conscious shopping is great, it is important for consumers to consider the steps required to manufacture and dispose of products as well – this is called a life cycle assessment.
A prime example of where a life cycle perspective is helpful is in comparing the purchase of a new car to either keeping your current vehicle or buying used. This particular topic can be quite complex on its own as there are many variables which can affect the outcome, but it is an easy life cycle to visualize. Vehicles release GHG emissions as they consume fuel during their use, but also during the manufacturing process and possibly after the end of their use. While a brand new car may get 37 mpg opposed to an older vehicle which only gets 24 mpg, a substantial amount of energy is required to manufacture the new vehicle. It is possible to look even further back – all the way to mining the metals that are used in the car and all of the steps in between (as well transportation between each of those steps). On the other end of the life cycle is the thought of recycling a vehicle, although this step is typically as simple as selling it as a used car. This is just a basic example to help you think about the life cycle of a product – for a much more in depth analysis of the new versus used car debate check out this article from AskPablo.org.
While it is easy to see that a car uses energy while it is manufactured, used, and even when its parts are recycled, a lifecycle perspective can be taken towards any product – even those that don’t require energy or emit GHGs during their use. Many goods, especially food items, are packaged in some sort of plastic. A bottle which holds 20oz of ketchup does not use twice as much plastic to make as a 10oz bottle. It also requires less energy to manufacture ten 20oz bottles than it does to produce twenty 10oz bottles, making the 20oz bottle more environmentally friendly (as long as you’ll use 20oz of ketchup). When thinking about how a product will be recycled, a consumer should consider what material(s) the product is made of. Plastics are conveniently labelled by a numeric code (1 through 7) to indicate what type of plastic a particular product is composed of. Some plastics, such as type 1 and type 2 are much easier to recycle than others, such as type 5 and type 7. Similarly, it is more difficult to recycle a product made of five materials than a product made of only one because the former requires additional sorting and processing.
The next time you’re out shopping try to keep a life cycle perspective to help you make more environmentally friendly purchases. You may find yourself second-guessing previously casual purchases (a carton of orange juice or a frozen can of concentrate?) or changing your purchasing all together (buying a used home instead of building a new one). Considering the life cycle impact of products is a small step that everyone can take to help reduce GHG emissions in their daily lives.
ClimateCHECK is a greenhouse gas (GHG) management services and solutions company. The firm’s solutions support all facets of the carbon commodities market, including the verification, validation and consultation of GHG inventories and program portfolios, as well as quantification protocols for emissions reduction projects and clean technologies. ClimateCHECK is a sponsor and co-founded, with World Resources Institute and Carbon Disclosure Project, the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (www.ghginstitute.org). Founded in March 2007, the company has locations throughout North America. For more information visit www.climate-check.com.