Is it possible to manufacture in a thoughtful, sustainable manner and still be competitive?
Many companies are asking that very question.
Professors from Politehnica University of Timisoara in Romania believe they have the answer.
In their paper, Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment of Products in the Context of Competitiveness, the authors demonstrate how companies can use a mathematical equation to achieve competitive sustainability.
There are two main features of Life Cycle Assessment:
- Life cycle dimension, which takes into account the entire life cycle of the product, from material extraction to launch, growth, maturity and decline; and
- Life cycle resources, which takes into account both input and output resources for the development of a product.
These two aspects are broken down in terms of their environmental, economic, and social impacts on the company and the world in general.
In a previous publication, the authors argued that though a sustainable organization is not required to be competitive and a competitive organization is not required to be sustainable, there is an ideal area in which the two concepts of “sustainability” and “competitiveness” intersect — much like a Venn diagram.
To help a company organize its processes and find that “ideal area”, the authors use the following pyramid model, based on the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where production needs are prioritized into five levels of assessment:
The authors argue that this pyramidal approach contributes to the staging of the organization’s actions in order to develop and design sustainable products.
A Life Cycle mentality, for example, must be in place in order to apply it to every aspect of production.
After the awareness-raising phase, a company must monitor and measure the carbon and water footprints of production, since both contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change.
Once a life cycle mindset is in place and the footprints measured, a total LCSA score can be calculated by assigning a value to each of the three areas of impact or responsibility: Economic, Environmental and Social.
Economic impact score includes internal costs and external costs.
The environmental impact score includes the value of the overall carbon and water footprint mentioned above, as well as resources (i.e. renewable vs. non-renewable, amount needed, ease of harvesting, etc.)
The social responsibility score is derived from assigning a value to human resources and related social activities related to product development.
An overall Sustainability Score can now be calculated by taking into account all three of these scores.
The ultimate score, calculated by an equation derived by the authors and that you can find in the paper, helps determine whether or not a company is in that “ideal zone” where competitiveness and sustainability overlap.
According to the authors, this LCSA assessment scheme can be adapted to any organization.
Be sure to view the full paper and its equation.
When in doubt — use a calculator!