Panel VB: Life Cycle Assessment
Tuesday, March 17, 2020; 11:15-12:15
Room MB 9B, 9th floor of the John Molson Building (MB) at 1450 Ave. Guy
In cold climates, precautions must be taken to prevent water from freezing and forming ice blockages in above-ground water distribution systems. Failure to do so makes pipes vulnerable to bursting. Conventionally, electric heating cables are installed around the pipes to replace the heat lost through the pipe and prevent liquid freezing. As an alternative, multi-layered coatings that include a conductive and electrically insulating layer can be applied directly to pipes to provide the same freeze protection functionality, but with increased energy efficiency. We present the results of a comparative environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) of the two systems. When the systems are powered by non-renewable sources, use-phase electricity consumption is the predominant driver of environmental impact for both systems. In these cases, the more energy-efficient multi-layered coating system is the environmentally preferable option. When the systems are powered by renewable sources, production is a more important driver of environmental impact. In these cases, the conventional heating cable is environmentally preferable. Based on this finding, we developed a mathematical approach to determine the environmentally preferable system for different Canadian regions based on climate conditions and energy mix. While use-phase electricity consumption dominates overall environmental impact, a detailed analysis shows that the environmental impacts of the production and end-of-life phases vary considerably between the two systems and are driven by material selection, production processes, and recyclability. Taken together, the mathematical approach and detailed analysis provide surface engineers and scientists with an understanding of the potential environmental advantages that can be realized and the environmental challenges that must be overcome to advance more sustainable multi-layered coating systems.
It is generally accepted that the environment has a limited capacity to absorb the ever-increasing pollutions around the world. One of the tools that help toward a sustainable future in identifying the most environmental friendly solution of a product is life cycle assessment. LCA is one of the most beneficial tools for assessing environmental impacts because it covers the entire life of a product from raw material acquisition to end-of-life. The Green-SEAM Network performs cutting-edge surface engineering research with the goal of evaluating new materials and processes for developing innovative surface engineering solutions. One of the objectives of the network is the environmental assessment of these innovative technologies to choose the best ones from both environmental and technical viewpoints. Due to lack of data, it is impossible to perform a reliable LCA for assessing the environmental performance of surface engineering emerging technologies. Even though there were many attempts to perform streamlined or screening LCAs, all methods have shortcomings and they don’t have transparency and consistency required for reliable evaluation. The simplified methods have some kinds of simplifications such as using average data rather than specific local values, eliminating analysis of small amounts of materials that may have significant impacts, eliminating capital equipment and supplier operation material flows from study. These methods are not flexible enough to be applied to various subjects and due to lack of transparency, they are subject to arbitrariness. Some methods are developed for a specified case study and they are mostly a cradle to gate assessment, which does not consider the use or end-of-life stages. In order to fill these gaps, this study aims to develop an LCA-based tool, address the methodological issues existed in available methods, and propose a framework for the environmental assessment of the emerging surface engineering innovative solutions to give an overview of strengths and weaknesses of various surface engineering candidates at early stages of their development. The first step is creating a quick and qualitative matrix that enables screening candidates with an inviolate list. This approach includes two parts: a matrix containing all stages of a product life cycle as well as potential environmental impacts, and a list of incorrect environmental choices and issues. The purpose of this quick assessment is to compare the matrix with the list and avoid further development of a candidate at early R&D stage in case of encountering critical environmental issues during its life cycle stages.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to assess diverse environmental impacts associated with a product, from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing, use, and the final disposal of the product. As such, it is a powerful tool for evaluating and identifying opportunities for improving the extended environmental impacts of a firm. Consultants and firms that use LCA point to a number of benefits, including resource efficiency and cost savings, reduced environmental liabilities, and product differentiation. However, a number of challenges limit the use of LCA more extensively. These include high adoption cost, complexities surrounding data collection, and the difficulty of communicating results to the stakeholders. Given these tensions, the extent of LCA adoption is relatively unclear. So, we studied the LCA adoption rates and practices among firms in the United States chemical industry from 1987 to 2017. The chemical industry offers an interesting setting because it has been at the center of environmental controversy and faces considerable pressure to improve its environmental performance. Our sample consisted of 185 firms for which we analyzed sustainability reports, media articles, and other publicly available documents to find evidence for the use of LCA. Our results indicate the diffusion of LCA remains underwhelming with only 31 firms or 16 % of the sample firms engaging in LCA in the past. We then compared LCA adopters and non-adopters to identify the critical factors that influenced whether or not a firm adopted LCA.
Large corporations routinely announce targets for future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions covering their own operations (Scope 1) and parts of their supply chain (Scope 2 and 3). Until recently, companies had few tools for setting emission targets based on climate policy goals. This changed in 2015 when the “Science-based targets” initiative (SBTi) was established. The initiative encourages companies to set emission targets in line with the 1.5 to 2 degree goal of the Paris Agreement and offers methods and guidelines for doing so. To date, more than 300 companies, with combined annual emissions comparable to that of Canada, have defined science-based GHG targets. With increasing popularity of the SBTi comes a need for scientific scrutiny of its methodological approach and the corporate targets it has approved.
In this study, we develop a framework to characterize and compare all methods that have been promoted by the SBTi, in terms of emission accounting scope, emission allocation model, company-required input variables, global parameter settings and format of resulting targets. We then evaluate the scientific validity of each method by answering the question “if all companies, globally, were to use this method to calculate a target, would the sum of all company targets equal the global emission scenario assumed in the method”? Finally, we address a concern that companies might “cherry-pick” the method that gives them the easiest target by comparing 317 SBTi-approved targets to “would-be targets” that we calculate for each of the methods companies can choose between. In light of the results, we provide recommendations to method developers, the SBTi and companies and discuss future research needs.
This event is brought to you by the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre with the support of the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies; the Faculty of Arts and Science; the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Communities and Cities; the John Molson School of Business; and the Departments of Biology; Communication Studies; Economics; Geography, Planning and Environment; Management; and Political Science at Concordia University.