The European Union is closing its ranks regarding the life cycle assessment of products. The aim is that sustainable products and businesses will stand out from others better, and more reliably, than before. The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has developed impact assessments and the new EcoModules tool to make the life cycle assessment of products quicker and easier.
Life cycle assessment is a generally accepted method to assess the environmental impact of products and organisations. The European Commission has developed life cycle guidelines since 2010 to help companies to reduce the environmental impact of their products and to prepare product specifications on the basis of standard assessment methods.
In addition to general life cycle guidelines, the European Commission has supported the preparation of sector- and product group-specific guidelines in recent years. From now on, assessments and communications should be more based on information collected from the actual production chain.
“What is new is that more pressure is placed on initial information used in assessments, and this information should come from actual parties to the production chain, starting from the production of raw material,” says researcher Hannele Pulkkinen from Luke.
The guidelines of the European Commission cover 14 environmental impact categories, ranging from climate impact to the consumption of resources. In many categories, the development of assessment methods is still in progress. In recent years, Luke has focused not only on climate impact, but also on the development of the impact assessment of water and nutrient footprints, soil impact, toxicity impact and biodiversity, and their application to the Finnish conditions.
Luke’s service helps companies to prepare life cycle assessments
Luke has developed EcoModules, a customer-driven data production and calculation tool for life cycle assessment. It improves the efficiency of company-specific product life cycle calculation regarding environmental impact and guarantees comparable results. EcoModules is in direct interaction with the best and most recent scientific research, which is why the results it produces are always up to date and scientifically reliable.
“In the first phase, EcoModules helps to assess the climate and eutrophication impact of products. Later, it also helps to assess other impact, such as the water footprint and ecotoxicity. What is more, the nutritional quality of food products can also be assessed,” says researcher Merja Saarinen from Luke.
EcoModules is based on network operations and collective value production. Luke invites industrial companies and businesses that produce IT solutions and environmental services to develop the EcoModules service for different bioeconomy sectors.
The service will also support the environmental choices of consumers
The need to produce information about the environmental impact of products and their raw materials throughout the life cycle is ever increasing. In recent years, Finland has made progress in terms of climate labels of consumer products.
“Currently, the highest need for producing reliable environmental information throughout the life cycle comes from abroad. Product-specific environmental information supports communication efforts in the food, forest and wood product industries, and more extensively in bioeconomy companies, also in domestic markets,” says Juha-Matti Katajajuuri, key account manager at Luke.
“With EcoModules, companies are able to respond to the information needs of even their most demanding customers. At the same time, EcoModules supports the environmental management and communication of companies,” Saarinen says.
In the future, EcoModules will also enable the development of consumer services. As a result, consumers can choose products that cause lower environmental loads and control the environmental impact of their own actions.