Climate change and the sustainable use of natural resources are among the main challenges for society today. This puts them at the top of the political environmental agenda, where they are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.
There is a realisation that product design and consumer behaviour can affect the overall environmental performance and efficiency of a product. Companies making the products are paying closer attention to manufacture, utilisation and end-of-life, which is an increasingly important factor for material specifiers.
Among the tools and methodologies available to evaluate the environmental, economic and social performance of materials and consumer products (including their impact on climate change and natural resources), life cycle assessment (LCA) provides a holistic approach that considers the potential impacts from all stages of manufacture, product use and end-of-life (reuse, recycling or disposal).
Key to this work is the recognition that a full life cycle approach is the best way to assess a product's impact on the environment. It is also, therefore, the best way to help society make informed decisions on the use of materials and their economic importance. Focusing solely on one aspect of a product's life, such as the material production, distorts the real picture because it might ignore increased impact during another life cycle phase, such as the use phase.
LCA, based on sound methodology and transparent reporting, is an important tool to assist with policy-making.
The procedures of LCA are part of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14040 series of standards. LCA takes into account the environmental impacts of the manufacturing processes of a product, the extraction of the raw materials used by these processes, the use and maintenance of the product by the consumer, its end–of-life (recycling, reuse or disposal) as well as the various methods of transport occurring between every link of the chain.
The use of LCA is becoming more widespread. There is an increasing number of national or regional databases which cover major industrial sectors. Many manufacturing organisations have LCA departments and there are more and more LCA software packages on the market. It is now also a subject taught at universities.
As the global body for steel, worldsteel is in a unique position to provide the most consistent and accurate information about LCA in the steel industry.
Steel is a major constituent material for a wide range of market applications and products, such as in the automotive, construction and packaging sectors. At a very early stage, the steel industry recognised the need to develop a sound methodology to collect worldwide LCI data, to support the markets and customers. A thorough set of guidelines was developed for companies that carry out or use LCA, which recommended maintaining the highest standards in both the undertaking of LCA studies and their disclosure. This is to prevent the reduction of complex issues to simplistic and partial analysis, which is especially important when using LCA to compare alternative materials.
worldsteel has been collecting life cycle inventory data from its member companies worldwide since 1995, with the launch of the worldsteel life cycle inventory (LCI) methodology and study. The worldsteel methodology provides a common basis of measurement of environmental and efficiency performance around the world. The LCI data quantifies 'cradle to gate' inputs (resources use, energy) and outputs (environmental emissions) of steel production from:
This data is used worldwide in LCA studies, not only by industry, but also by universities (often commissioned by industry and governments to inform their decisions and policy-making) to ensure informed material selection decisions. The worldsteel programme helps to identify ways to improve the eco-efficiency of steelmaking.
The third worldsteel LCI data collection is currently underway. It will be completed by the end of 2008. Its aims are:
As the exercise is repeated and improved over time, the LCI framework can also be used as a powerful tool for measuring progress by the steel industry. Approximately 30 companies worldwide participate in the data collection exercise.
worldsteel's LCA methodology and LCI data help the industry to:
LCA also plays a vital role in companies’ environmental and greenhouse gas reporting requirements, marketing and sales support, and ensuring compliance with regulations and voluntary initiatives such as environmental product declarations.
The worldsteel LCA Expert Group was established in 1998. It undertakes a work programme to improve worldsteel's methodologies and to align them with other regional initiatives. The forum also aims to:
The focus of the expert group engages all stakeholders in the LCA process, in order to make better use of LCA as a tool in inter-material competition and steel promotion.
worldsteel has a clear mission to achieve a number of objectives in the coming years. worldsteel will:
If you are carrying out an LCA study, you can fill in the data requrest form at worldsteel.org.