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Lifecycle management

Building plant roomLife cycle management (LCM) is an integrated and flexible approach to business management that draws on the principles of life cycle thinking (LCT) to help businesses of all kinds - manufacturers, retailers, financial, professional - understand their environmental impacts and where they occur within the lifecycle of their operation, from raw materials through to end-of-life.

For manufacturers it is important to note that more than 70% of the environmental impacts, including resource use, of their products and of their operations have already been locked in at the design stage i.e. when the product was designed or the manufacturing process was designed. Therefore the most effective way to reduce impacts and resource use is the address these at the design stage. This is called design for sustainability (D4S). See the link below for more information on D4S and resources.

Life cycle management (LCM) can benefit your business financially by helping to reduce resource (electricity, gas, water and materials) and waste costs, as well as boosting your reputation by reducing the negative environmental impacts of your business' operations.

Life cycle management tools

There are a number of different tools which can assist designers, product developers and manufacturers to evaluate the environmental benefits and impacts of a product. The most appropriate tool or tools to use will depend on the objective. For example, is it to quickly compare the life cycle environmental impacts of several different design concepts? Or is the objective to gather more rigorous and peer-reviewed information on an existing product?

Some commonly used tools are:

  1. Life cycle map

    A life cycle map is a qualitative tool which can provide an increased understanding of the product life cycle and some of the sustainability benefits and impacts associated with each stage. It involves drawing up a process tree, or 'map', of the product life cycle by asking a series of questions.

    Lifecycle mapping for processes Lifecycle mapping for products and services

  2. Life cycle matrix

    Is another qualitative tool that can help the user to think through the sustainability impacts and benefits at each stage of the life cycle. It can be used in conjunction with the life cycle map to build knowledge about the life cycle impacts and benefits of a product and opportunities to enhance sustainability through better design.

  3. Life cycle assessment (LCA)

    LCA is an internationally recognised and standardized technique (ISO 14040 series) for assessing the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product over its total life cycle. A full LCA is particularly useful if you need to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product or system with a high level of accuracy. However, it can be a time-consuming, resource-intensive and costly exercise because of the need to collect detailed inventory data for each stage of the life cycle.

  4. Streamlined life cycle evaluation tools

    It is not feasible to use LCA as a routine diagnostic tool because of the time and effort required. To overcome this problem, a number of streamlined tools have been developed to help designers to evaluate design options at the concept stage. These have a more user-friendly interface than LCA software and have been tailored for specific purposes, such as the evaluation of packaging systems, materials specification and energy impacts.

    The Gordon life cycle thinking case study

Design for Sustainability (D4S)

D4S is about designing products or processes with minimal or no environmental impacts, including greater energy and water efficiency, and smarter material choices meaning less or zero waste, at the end of life of the product or end of the process.

Desktop glossary for product designers Quick Start 3 Design for Environment