Life Cycle Management
Viewing products and processes as a whole
It used to be that a product was good if it did what it was supposed to and the price was right. Today, however, many customers and end consumers are also interested in how sustainable a product is; in other words, they want to know what impact it has on the environment, the climate, and society.
Sustainability is one of the most important criteria that Evonik considers when developing new products and solutions. For this reason, Evonik established a Life Cycle Management (LCM) team in 2009 to support research units, operations, and Group headquarters with life cycle assessments. These assessments take into account the whole product lifecycle and make the ecological strengths and weaknesses of products and processes transparent, and in doing so identify opportunities and risks for the business.
Part of Evonik’s Process Technology and Engineering Business Line, the LCM team was founded along with the Eco2 science-to-business (S2B) center run by Creavis. The Eco2 team started off with the goal that each one of its projects should save one million metric tons of CO2 within five years of market launch. That required a methodology, which the LCM team was charged with developing. The objective was to determine right at the start of a research project whether that project would deliver environmental gains—even though few hard data would be available at that point. Their Carbon Footprint Estimation (CFE) method proved to be a suitable tool for this and quickly gained a foothold throughout the Group.
Before long, the method was expanded to include additional sustainability aspects, such as social concerns, waste production, nutrient contamination in the soil and water, and the water scarcity footprint, which models water consumption within the context of local water availability. This comprehensive sustainability analysis has been a fixed component of how ideas and projects are evaluated at Creavis since 2013.
In addition to research projects, the LCM team also assesses existing products and processes with respect to their environmental impact, and here the team applies the established Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. Life cycle analyses are now on hand for over 70 percent of Evonik’s business (measured as a percentage of sales). And that figure is expected to rise.
The simplest scenario is that of a gate-to-gate assessment, which gauges environmental impact within the confines of a single company. For this assessment to yield meaningful information, site-specific media such as electricity, process steam, water, etc. must be studied as precisely as possible.
Analyzing a product across its entire life cycle (a cradle-to-grave assessment) is more complex. Here the greatest environmental impact is frequently a result of the raw materials, or arises when the product is used. Some of these data must be researched extensively and/or derived from complex calculations—work that requires a great deal of expertise in process engineering and in IT. The LCM team reflects those demands, as it is made up of engineers, natural scientists, and IT specialists.
LCM issues play an especially big role in end-consumer industries and markets. The Henkel Sustainability Award demonstrates just how important sustainable raw materials are to renowned manufacturers of consumer goods. Evonik received the award in 2016 for its ongoing contribution to sustainability in its product and project pipelines and for its outstanding LCA achievements.
LCAs are also used as an active marketing tool, however, as is the case with the amino acids used in animal feeds. In these applications, Evonik can provide its customers with detailed preliminary calculations showing how the addition of a given amino acid blend can reduce the content of raw protein in animal feeds and how doing so, in turn, lowers the environmental impact of animal husbandry.
When it comes to communicating LCA results externally, as was recently done for PLEXIGLAS®, one way that the LCM team provides support is by preparing an environmental product declaration (EPD). These documents are particularly important in the construction sector and are often used for comparing the environmental impact of different products.
The LCM team’s toolbox also makes a valuable contribution to the company at the strategic level. Inclusion in respected sustainability indices—the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) World and the DJSI Europe—is one of many indications of the success of these efforts.