Sustainability needs valid data, not buzzwords
Industries such as automotive and consumer electronics face an increasing customer awareness of the importance of environmental protection. We believe that the potential environmental impact associated with a product (manufactured and/or used) can significantly improve if we compare all major environmental impacts the best possible way before choosing between alternative courses of action.
Simply claiming products are “green”, “ecologically-friendly”, or “sustainable” is no longer good enough. Overused words and claims such as these often become meaningless. This has paved the way for a more holistic view of environmental interactions – from the extraction of raw materials, the production and distribution of energy, through the use, and reuse, and final disposal of a product.
According to Trinseo’s Frank Schumann, Global Marketing Manager, Automotive, the top sustainability concerns globally are to avoid global warming, and the depletion of our natural resources, namely water and energy: “Acceptable metrics to measure these targets are CO2 emissions released, and water and energy consumed. These sustainability concerns can be expanded”, Frank Schumann adds,”to include other areas that influence human life such as land use, deforestation, child labor, or impact on the food supply.”
After all, the definition of sustainability is broad – to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – and the ramification of our actions and the impact of the products we create are often far reaching.
By identifying the sustainability targets, we can achieve and then determine how a product and its manufacturing process impacts that target. Therefore, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a relative tool for evaluation, thereby an internationally standardized method (ISO 14040, ISO 14004) used to provide evidence. LCA enables us to develop quantifiable, supporting data to validate our claims.
Four phases in an LCA analysis process
- Goal and scope definition phase
- Inventory analysis phase
- Impact assessment phase
- Interpretation phase
Basic elements and advantages of LCA
- Identification of opportunities for the enhancement of a product’s environmental performance at various points in its life cycle
- Information source for decision-makers supporting e. g. strategic planning, priority setting, design or redesign of a product
- Source of relevant indicators of environmental performance, including measurement techniques/standards
- Base for implementation of e. g. a reliable eco-labelling scheme or producing an environmental product declaration for the benefit of customers
Trinseo LCA examples – a process flow starts all
Wherever the starting point, the key is to build a process flow and measure each step in the production process. This will include the raw materials, how they were extracted, the transportation, and the natural resources consumed during the manufacturing process. It will also include the analysis of the output, or the final product: What becomes of it? Will it go into a larger product or application? Does the final product or application have an impact on our sustainability goals?
PULSE™ ECO PC/ABS with post-industrial recycling content
A simple example of LCA, and one that Trinseo is involved with all the time, is to determine the sustainability impact of replacing a traditional ingredient with an eco-friendly alternative. We did this when we introduced a sustainable alternative to the PULSE™ GX Series of PC/ABS resins, a combination of petroleum-based polycarbonate (PC) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).
The alternative, our PULSE™ ECO grades, replace the petroleum-based PC portion with post-industrial recycled (PIR) PC, a material that had already been manufactured, was considered scrap, and was reclaimed from an industrial setting. The LCA analysis allows us to quantify the CO2 emissions saved in the PIR polycarbonate portion, since CO2 had been emitted when the material was initially processed.
Other parameters that influence the LCA results are water and energy savings, emissions associated with the transportation of the goods to the manufacturing facility and even the benefits from using a lighter material in the final application.
(Click the related content teaser and learn more in our PULSE™ ECO case study.)
APILON™ 52 BIO Bio-based TPU
An additional LCA example is our proactive innovation APILON™ 52 BIO – a bio-based TPU for footwear and fashion applications. The broad range of APILON™ 52 BIO grades allows it to use these polymers and compounds in a huge variety of applications, both in footwear and in leather goods.
We developed APILON™ 52 BIO facing the increasing importance of ethical principles in the world of fashion. It is part of an evolution towards an eco-sustainable economy bringing social, economic, and environmental advantages – proven by LCA analysis.
APIGO™ BIO PM 130 Bio-based TPO
LCA-proven significant reduction of Global Warming Potential and energy use distinguish our bio-based TPO solution APIGO™ BIO PM 130 from fossil-based alternatives. Nearly all the tampon applicators on the market are made of polyethylene or polypropylene. Women are increasingly interested in hygiene products made from natural or sustainable materials.
APIGO™ BIO are olefin-based thermoplastic bioplastics containing raw materials from renewable resources. These bioplastics guarantee the same physical-mechanical properties and processability as traditional fossil-based TPOs. With our innovative APIGO™ BIO PM 130 we could both meet the high requirements for a product such as a tampon applicator and offer significant environmental benefits.
(Learn more on APILON™ BIO Bio-based TPU, APIGO™ BIO Bio-based TPO, and other Trinseo bioplastics clicking the link to our related resource ”Unlocking the Potential of Bioplastics“.)
Transparency and demystification
An LCA analysis can be complex and multifaceted. The data required is not always readily available and sometimes a well-defined process needs to be put in place to collect it. While it can be done internally, an objective third party is often chosen to conduct the analysis.
In a conversation with Frank Schumann on the new PULSE™ ECO PC/ABS, we learn: "Trinseo collaborated with a university in Germany to conduct LCA on its polycarbonate plant in Stade, Germany to certify the sustainability claims regarding its operations. This required an analysis of various criteria involved in the production of 1 kg of polycarbonate, followed by an extrapolation of the data to facility-level production capacity."
Clearly LCA is a growing trend. In most circles, the analysis is not a requirement yet soon companies and customers will undoubtedly ask for it, specifying what thresholds need to be attained, similar to how performance attributes are specified today. Consumers too will be more accustomed to seeing this type of information on their products, like they do, to some extent, on new vehicle stickers.
“It’s all about making a process visible and following the flow of materials and resources used. I like to say we’re demystifying and putting numbers to a great big black box,” Frank Schumann emphasizes.