Make Your Organization Smarter with an LCA Catalog and Repository
Conducting Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) is a little bit like buying books. If you only have a handful, you can probably remember what information is contained in each of them, and quickly find the one you happen to need. But if you’re constantly adding to your collection, and need to share knowledge with others, the value of organization quickly becomes apparent.
That’s why we’re big advocates for catalogs and repositories of LCAs along with their data and models. Whether at startups or multinationals, we’ve seen firsthand in the course of our consulting work that information from LCAs is highly valuable in product development, manufacturing, marketing, and other fields. Maintaining and curating LCAs helps leverage past spending, avoid redundancy, develop better LCAs, and empower diverse groups of colleagues to make better decisions – it can make your whole organization smarter, and doesn’t have to be a big hairball project.
And beyond that, helping extract more value out of information is closely aligned with our corporate mission of using data-driven methods to empower clients. So, helping build catalogs and repositories is one of our favorite types of project.
Just to define our terms: a catalog is a searchable list of all available LCA resources, and a repository is a designated spot where those resources are stored. If someone is trying to find out what life-cycle thinking went into projects three or four years ago, they can explore the catalog to find relevant studies and then obtain the material they need from the repository.
We’re planning a deeper and more detailed look at this subject in the near future, but here are some basic thoughts on why catalogs and repositories are such a worthwhile endeavor for organizations of any size.
Three basic motivators are involved: the ability to use and re-use LCA data, the ability to review and leverage LCA results, and the cultivation of better cohesion and synergy across multiple functional groups in a larger enterprise.
Anyone involved in conducting LCAs knows that compilation of data libraries is a major chunk of the overall labor. Making these readily available for reuse accelerates subsequent data collection processes and derives more value from the original investment.
In addition, there can be even more value for people who aren’t directly involved in the LCA process. Product designers, process engineers, project planners, corporate sustainability officers, and investor relations groups are just some of those who benefit from access to certain elements of LCA information. If they don’t know what information is available or where to find it, they’ll spend valuable time tracking down the information elsewhere – or worse yet, simply go without as they make decisions.
Lastly, making LCA study information available can facilitate interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration, which leads to more-efficient analyses and better insights with broader reach. People who have narrowly focused duties can get a broader view, while big-picture types can quickly drill down when the need arises – and it’s a great tool for accelerated on-boarding of new personnel. Moreover, for those of us who are hands-on in LCA work, this type of communication with end users helps ensure that our assessments are accomplishing what they set out to do and answering the right questions.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a huge, expensive undertaking you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Indeed, our years of work with organizations of all sizes have shown us that very often, simpler approaches are better, assuming they fit conveniently into your colleagues’ workflows and can be easily updated as new information becomes available.
Microsoft Excel is probably on everyone’s computer already, and something as simple as a widely accessible spreadsheet, augmented with security-conscious macros, can be extremely useful. This approach offers low barriers to adoption and can provide a gateway to more powerful solutions should the need arise.
We worked on one recent project that involved creation of a catalog in this type of spreadsheet with advanced filtering and search functions. It allows users to quickly find specific datasets among our client’s nearly 700 individual unit processes, with automated links to the repository. In addition to the datasets, the repository includes related reports and journal articles, making it useful in a wide range of situations.
If you’re looking for a good place to start your catalog and repository building, why not have a chat with some of your key team members – it’s an excellent way to define the project purpose and essential characteristics. Also, reach out to people who could benefit from additional access and find out how to make it easy for them to obtain useful information. For example, different groups sometimes refer to the same thing using different words and phrases – something as simple as adding a few more keywords to your spreadsheet can make a big difference.
As noted, we’ll be back with more details on this in the near future. But if you’re interested now, why not give us a call or send a note to [email protected] – we’re ready to share our experience and help build your catalog and repository with maximum efficiency.
About the Authors:
Caroline Taylor PhD, EarthShift Global’s Director of Research and Development, conducts and supports rigorous research and analysis for use in strategic sustainability decision-making at companies, governmental bodies and NGOs. Caroline has over 20 years of experience in modeling and analysis, a decade of it in energy and sustainability. She is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Global Change Biology: Bioenergy and holds a visiting appointment with Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California Berkeley. She has earned Bachelor’s degrees in Classics and Chemistry from the University of California at Irvine and a Doctorate in Chemistry (Chemical Physics) from the University of Chicago, and was a post-doctoral scholar at Cornell University.
Pete Dunn, EarthShift Global’s marketing consultant, is an entrepreneurial marketing and communications strategist and writer, serving clients in academia, technology and B-to-B marketing. His journalism background includes eight years as founder, editor and publisher of WaferNews, the leading news publication for the international semiconductor manufacturing community. He specializes in creative collaboration and translating complex subjects into clear messages that inform and inspire.
PHOTO: Rijks Museum Library, Amsterdam, by Flickr user Roman Boed. Used under Creative Commons. https://flic.kr/p/mmgwkx