VIEWS: Notes from an LCA Conference

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

This week I'm at the LCA Sustainable Supply Chain Conference in Chicago, where dozens of expert practitioners have gathered to examine the current state of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  There are dozens of amazing speakers, case studies, and attendees.  A few interesting things that piqued my interest:

  • Did you know the Icelandic volcano that recently erupted will likely result in a global cooling for the next 2-3 years because of the sulphates spewn into the air?  Get ready for another round of climate change skepticism as a result – although once the volcanic effects have passed we'll be right back to where we started in terms of global temperature rises (and Arctic temperature increases are happening at rates 4 times higher than the global average!). 
  • A wind farm that has extreme power fluctuations will need to have a supplemental back-up plan.  If you're in the Pacific Northwest and your back-up is hydropower, that's great.  If you're in the West, you're back-up is probably inefficient natural gas.  To determine the true impact of a wind farm, you MUST take into account the full impact of both the wind farm itself and the back-up power supply. 
  • Steel from China is 100 times worse for the environment than US-made steel, when looking at a broad spectrum of impacts across a full Life Cycle Assessment.  When presented with this evidence, the US steel industry said “well, duh” but hadn't been able to demonstrate their “betterness” until a full LCA was done.  [I paraphrase, of course.]

I’m excited to get back to the office next week and put some of the things I’ve learned to use!