Using LCAs for Improving Products & Systems

In the context of improving system performance, you should not think solely in terms of the set of parameters obtained by summing the data sets over the complete cradle to grave system.  It is important to see how the component operations or groups of operations contribute to the overall system totals.  In other words, we need to examine the relative contributions of the different operations or groups of operations because this is the way to identify those areas where the biggest improvements can usually be made.

Once we have identified the area where changes could be made, it requires some knowledge of how the system works to be able to suggest changes.  For industrial plants, this is usually the preserve of the site engineers and the best that the life cycle analyst can do is draw their attention to the fact that this area is a potential hot-spot.

There are, however, other areas where the life cycle analyst can make direct suggestions.  A couple of examples illustrate this.

Example 1:  Large site organization

Many large sites contain several production facilities each of which acts in an almost autonomous way.  Frequently these sites have developed over the years often without any overall site planning.  Thus the current set-up is often a result of historical accident rather than logical planning.

On one such site where we had the opportunity to examine a number of different production facilities on the same site, it quickly became apparent that many of the production units were operating their own steam generating facilities.  It also became clear that some production units were venting surplus steam to air whereas others were struggling to generate their own demand for steam.

Because the different production units were owned by different companies, there was no overall site control yet the steam balance for the site showed that if the different plants were to be linked the overall steam generation could be reduced by almost 20%.


Example 2:  MASLAND Carpets & INVISTA

Beginning in spring 2005, Masland in cooperation with Invista, began sending all of our manufacturing waste from our Area Rug manufacturing facility to Invista's Reclamation Center in Calhoun, GA.  This diverts approximately 100,000 pounds of post-industrial carpet from the landfill.  Uses for the re-claimed carpet range from manufacturing of padding for under carpet, automobile parts and roof shingles among other products.

Masland Carpets and Rugs has a commitment to people, which instills an internal environment of responsibility to nature.  A program, known as War on Waste, has empowered the employees of Masland Carpets and Rugs to generate effective ways of eliminating waste.  From recycling of paper, plastic and aluminum cans to advancements in the energy efficiency of machinery, Masland Carpets and Rugs has generated a respect for nature that will ensure a safer environment for the future.  Reductions in natural gas and water used for the dyeing of yarn and carpet and the finishing of carpet have been reduced 22% and 17%, respectively since 1999.  In addition, electricity has been reduced by 26% during the same time period.