Last year, Sphera was the first company to bring a fully automated life cycle assessment (LCA) solution to the market. And this year, Sphera announced a new iteration of the software specifically for discrete manufacturers. The LCA Automation solution was developed with the overall goal of helping businesses with extensive product portfolios measure and reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced at each step of a product’s life cycle more effectively.
As pressures increase for companies to measure and report their environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability performance, performing an LCA allows companies to gain a science-based, granular view into the carbon footprints and environmental impacts of their product portfolios. However, performing an LCA manually can take several months depending on goal and scope, and companies with extensive product portfolios often have large backlogs of LCAs waiting to be completed or updated.
LCA Automation allows companies to perform life cycle assessments at scale for their entire product portfolios at a fraction of the time and cost. The solution integrates with a company’s existing IT systems, providing real-time analysis of the carbon footprint and environmental impacts of a company’s product portfolio.
Even though LCA Automation is a new and cutting-edge technology, its origin stretches back decades. Read on to learn more about how the LCA Automation solution came to be and its role in helping companies meet regulatory reporting requirements and drive progress on ESG and decarbonization goals.
Implementing Life Cycle Thinking
The story of LCA Automation begins with a consistent definition of the method and the collection of data. This happened in the 1990s, when the datasets known as Sphera Managed LCA Content (formerly known as GaBi) emerged.
The datasets were created after the energy crisis of the 1970s and 80s prompted automotive manufacturers to look for ways to improve the environmental impact of cars during their life cycle. Several car manufacturers approached researchers at the University of Stuttgart about how to quantify the various environmental impacts through adjusting the materials and processes for manufacturing cars.
After analyzing each material, the researchers realized that they needed a separate dataset for each one and a model that detailed the manufacturing processes. These models then needed to quantify the environmental impacts of each step of the manufacturing process and accurately show the processes of upstream material suppliers.
Applying this life cycle-centered approach to a specific industry was novel at the time. Before, the need to measure and improve the environmental impacts of materials and processes had been relegated to academic settings and theoretical discussions, without a practical application.
After recognizing the need for a life cycle solution for industries with complex products, researchers at the University of Stuttgart formed a company called PE International to develop one. The result was LCA for Experts (formerly GaBi software), which integrated the Sphera Managed LCA Content datasets.
The Growing Relationship with the Automotive Industry
This evolving relationship with the automotive industry led to the creation of LCA BOM Import (formerly known as GaBi DfX) in the early 2000s. Because automobiles are comprised of a multitude of different components, inputting each component’s life cycle information is a time-consuming exercise.
LCA BOM Import is a semi-automated solution that pulls primary data from a product’s bill of materials (BOM), which details the materials that are used to manufacture a product, as well as its composition. LCA BOM Import allows companies to automate the import of the BOM for each vehicle and match it to the corresponding data.
The time-saving functionality of LCA BOM Import has proven popular as companies are under increasing pressure from investors, regulators and the public to measure and report their carbon footprints and environmental impacts transparently and accurately.
The Business Case for LCA Automation
Building on the success of LCA BOM Import and the increasing need for solutions that can provide better information on companies’ product portfolios, there was a clear business case to bring a fully automated LCA solution to market. Sphera relied on 20 years of experience to develop its LCA Automation solution, which can support a variety of industries.
Sphera’s LCA Automation solution enables companies to perform LCAs, environmental product declarations (EPDs) and product carbon footprints (PCFs) across a company’s product portfolio in a matter of minutes, not months. LCA Automation allows companies to increase the number of LCAs they’re able to complete by a factor of 1,000.
With the efficiencies LCA Automation provides, companies can more effectively measure and report the carbon footprints and environmental impacts of their product portfolios and comply with ever-growing regulatory requirements.
For example, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive’s (CSRD) European Sustainability Reporting Standards require companies to report their Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 GHG emissions, among other ESG factors.
Additionally, the proposed regulations for climate-related disclosures from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also require companies to report their Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions. And the EU recently passed a regulatory framework for batteries that includes mandatory sustainability requirements such as minimum recycled content guidelines and carbon footprint rules.
The Future of LCA Automation
While the origin of the Sphera’s LCA Automation solution goes back decades to the inception of Sphera Managed LCA Content, its story is just beginning. There are new chapters to write, including the upcoming iteration for the chemical industry.
As the ESG regulatory landscape continues to evolve, LCA Automation will be a key tool for quantifying and reporting carbon footprints and environmental impacts at scale across complex product portfolios. With the right LCA data, software and expertise, companies can ensure regulatory compliance, meet stakeholder expectations and drive progress on ESG and decarbonization strategies.