Environmental and social life cycle analysis as a key tool for the circular economy
Circular Economy

What is the circular economy?
The circular economy aims to produce goods and services in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way, reducing the consumption of energy, water and raw materials.

What is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?
Life Cycle Assessment is a methodology promoted by the European Commission that integrates the requirements of the circular economy. LCA is an environmental and/or social management tool whose purpose is to analyze the impact of a process, a product or an organization. It is a multi-stage methodology (during the phases of its life cycle) and multi-criteria (taking into account several indicators).

When we talk about environmental LCA (aECA), the indicators are related to impacts such as climate change, discharges, waste, etc.; while when we talk about social LCA (SLA), the indicators are associated with socioeconomic aspects, health and safety.

What are the guidelines for an LCA?
The first step is the selection of the environmental impact categories to be considered in the study. These categories correspond to the most relevant environmental impacts, which will be quantified in the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) of the product or service under study. The LCA is governed by international standards ISO 14040 (general description) and 14044 (methodological framework).

As for LCAs, they are based on UNEP guidelines and are supported by databases and the design of computer programs in which other stakeholders can subsequently participate.

How to perform an LCA?
The main objective of an LCA is to identify the environmental impacts of the product or service, beyond a single-criteria approach, mainly focused on
greenhouse gas emissions. The choice of indicators is key to allow to have elements of monitoring over time and therefore also to consolidate the analyses between them, in particular by product or service ranges. On the other hand, qualitative indicators can be added to the monitoring of product performance and should sometimes not be limited to improvement results, which may sometimes seem insignificant per production unit and yet have a relevant implication at the level of the production facility.

The use of a computer program to carry out environmental diagnostics should be done with caution, integrating a real global vision of the problems to be addressed. The main user's question must be formulated, as well as that of the final use of this type of tool, and the link, central or not, with the use of conventional design tools.

What is the Spanish Pact for the Circular Economy?
The Ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and for Ecological Transition as well as the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness have promoted the Pact for the Circular Economy in order to involve the main economic and social agents in Spain in the transition towards a new economic model.

LCA is the key tool for eco-design and, as such, it is a key piece in the diagnosis for the integration of CSR and circular economy strategies in any company.

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