The ‘Consuming Responsibly’ series provides readers with information to stimulate thinking about evaluation of consumption choices, provides a basis and rationale for limiting adverse environmental and social impacts of purchases, and offers ideas as to how to satisfy needs while consuming less. This series seeks to influence consumption trends that ultimately result in lower environmental impacts of household consumption, including waste generation, and in more socially beneficial outcomes.
In developing this series, a wide variety of sources were consulted. Wherever possible, information regarding environmental impacts of a given product, product replacement decision, or consumer practice was developed based on results of third-party verified life cycle assessments (LCA). LCA is a data-based method by which raw material flows, processes, finished products, solid wastes, and emissions throughout each stage of manufacture, use, and end-of-life disposal can be examined, providing a powerful tool for evaluation of a full suite of environmental impacts linked to a product throughout its life cycle. While life cycle data is not yet commonly available at the ultimate consumer level, the findings of data-based comprehensive life cycle assessments, where available, are of enormous help in evaluating product choices. Further guidance provided in the form of third-party product certification – information which addresses issues and concerns not easily measured in precise terms – is likewise of great value to distributors and ultimate consumers alike.
Systematic assessment of products and alternatives, such as through LCA, demonstrates the importance of holistic, systematic thinking, as well as the dangers of considering only single attributes or reliance on intuition in evaluating product alternatives. These findings also illustrate the profound impact of energy efficiency on overall environmental performance of many products. Fortunately, LCA-based environmental labels for consumer products (discussed in the 18th report in this series) are now emerging that will be of great help to environmentally conscious consumers.