Comparing the Environmental Footprint of Consumer Products: The relevance of different life cycle phases
Annette Koehler,* ETH Zurich
Wildbolz Caroline, ETH Zurich
Stefanie Hellweg, ETH Zurich
The environmental impacts from consumer goods are increasingly discussed in the context of sustainable production and consumption. Generally, the main stakeholders along the consumer products’ life cycle have different possibilities to influence the products’ resource efficiency and life-cycle stage related environmental performance. In order to investigate the relevance of different life cycle stages and the contribution of particular environmental impacts to the overall ecological footprint of consumer goods, a comprehensive cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment study was performed on eight home care and personal hygiene products. These product groups comprised bathroom and kitchen cleaning agents, detergents, and soaps. Life cycle inventories for the manufacturing of the products were established on the basis of first-hand industry data. The use phase was modeled applying data from consumer behavior studies (e.g. data on cleaning frequency, product application amounts, cleaning habits) and information provided on the products’ packaging. For the end-of-life phase, different disposal options were considered particularly for the packaging material (e.g. incineration, open-loop recycling). The results of the analysis indicate that for most home care and personal hygiene products the main environmental impacts are caused during the use phase. For the case of laundry detergents, for instance, the consumer strongly affects the detergents’ carbon footprint by the choice of the water temperature applied for laundry washing. Ecotoxic effects from the emission of detergent components to the aquatic system after wastewater treatment play an important role for the end-of-life phase. The environmental impacts from the product components, however, can most effectively be controlled by the raw materials choice taken by the product manufacturer, rather than by the relevant actor in the disposal phase. The presentation will highlight the contribution of the different life cycle stages to the overall environmental footprint of the consumer products investigated. Guidance will be provided on the selection of relevant impact categories for different product clusters. The implications for product development in industry as well as for marketing and consumer information via the producer and the retailer will be discussed.
* corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org