"Life cycle thinking implies that everyone in the whole chain of a product's life-cycle from the cradle to the grave has a responsibility and a role to play, taking into account all the relevant external effects", says Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Mr. Toepfer commended the recent action of the European Union to ban batteries containing cadmium by 2008 and to make producers of electric and electronic equipment responsible for collecting and recycling waste products, which he saw as an important first step.
We have to move away from a 'throw-away' society
We must aim towards a society in which producers and consumers assume responsibility for their own actions and decisions. It is important that producer responsibility be extended with the aim of, for instance, transferring the costs of disposal and waste management from local authorities to those that are most able to influence the characteristics of products. This is a means of encouraging producers to conceptualize, develop and implement products and processes that do not become problematic at the post-consumer stage. "It is becoming more and more evident that consumers are increasingly interested in the 'world that lies behind' the product they buy", says Mr. Toepfer. "Apart from price and quality, they want to know how and where and by whom the product has been produced. This increasing awareness about environmental and social issues is a sign of hope. Governments and industry must build on that".
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has proved to be a valuable quantitative tool
According to Toepfer, LCA has proved to be a quantitative tool and a methodology or 'way of thinking' to improve environmental performance. It quantifies energy and resource inputs and outputs at all states of a life cycle, then determines and weighs the associated impacts to set the stage for improvements.
LCA must be utilized to its full potential
Mr. Toepfer states that UNEP's goal is to reach out to those unfamiliar with Life Cycle assessment and to get them involved. This will include small and medium sized companies, governments and businesses, especially those in developing countries. A report on the level of acceptance and adoption of LCA worldwide will be available later this year.
Relationship between trade and environment: an important issue
In the promotion of 'life-cycle economy', the relationship between trade and environment is an important issue. If effective environmental polices are implemented, trade liberalization can have a positive impact on the environment by improving the allocation of resources, technology transfer and raising income levels. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development called for countries to ensure that trade and environment policies are mutually supportive and to design policies that maximize the benefits of trade liberalization, with a view to achieving sustainable development.
In ensuring that free trade aims at promoting sustainable development worldwide, internalization of environmental costs, promotion of environmentally sound technologies and cleaner production methods are important tools.
"The impacts of all life cycle stages need to be considered comprehensively when taking informed decisions on production and consumption patterns, policies and management strategies" adds Mr. Toepfer. "It is vitally important that life cycle thinking be fostered in all parts of society and within organizations", he concludes.
"Impacts of all life cycle stages need to be considered comprehensively when taking informed decisions on production and consumption patterns, policies and management strategies"
For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information Branch, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692;
Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel,
UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics,
Tour Mirabeau, 39-43 quai Andr‚ Citroen, 75739 Paris Cedex 15, France,
Tel.: 33 1-44-37-1450;
Chief, Economics and Trade Unit.
Tel.: +41-22-979-9179; Fax: +41-22-796-9240;
UNEP News Release 1999/90