You've probably heard the term at some point or undoubtedly read about it in other posts: "life cycle assessment" (sometimes "life cycle analysis" or "LCA"), that fascinating methodology that considers the impacts of a product or process from "cradle to grave" or "cradle to cradle" depending on where it ends up. It's time to get to it and to understand what all this LCA hype is about. Let's start by understanding what a life cycle is.We hear a lot of tips on how reduce our ecological footprint, including one of the essentials — buy local products. Why? It comes back to product life cycle. PLC is originally a marketing term used to define all of the development stages of a product. In environmental terms it has a different meaning. In the proverbial nutshell, the life cycle of a product is not just the time during which you use it. It includes everything from the extraction/processing of raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, use and reuse, any maintenance and repair necessary, and finally the "end of life", which could include recycling or disposal. Thus, the real impacts of a product are not only about the product itself, but about everything that went into making it, packaging it, using it and getting rid of it. The EPA has a great graphical representation of the life cycle of a cd; check it out if you're a visual learner.
What does this have to do with buying locally? A product's life cycle considers all of its components, including transportation. In fact, transportation is often a big contributor to the impacts of a product (more to come on that). By buying local products we reduce transportation emissions, and we subsequently reduce the overall life cycle impacts of a product. This is a simple example of impacts, as it is obviously a much more complicated calculation. For now, when you are purchasing those greener gifts for your loved ones during this festive time of year, keep in mind where they came from, what it took to make them, and where they might end up. Stay tuned for more on LCA and who's doing it.