What a long, strange trip: lifecycle assessment

If someone asks you “Where did your t-shirt come from?” you’re likely to respond with the name of a store or online shop. Eco-adventurer David de Rothschild isn’t satisfied with such answers, though, and has traveled the globe looking for information about the sources, and environmental impact, of the things we buy daily.

de Rothschild’s Eco Trip-ping to exotic locations, and by unconventional means (such as by a boat made largely from plastic water bottles), represents a broad-scale effort in a relatively new scientific endeavor: lifecycle assessment.

Scientists in this field use terms like “inventory analysis” and “impact assessment” to define steps in their work, but the concept of lifecycle assessment is pretty simple: what are the environmental impacts of all of the stages of creating a product? Is there damage done in extracting natural resources, in producing the product, or in disposing of it? If so, how can manufacturers reduce, or even eliminate, that damage?

Want to know more? The Environmental Literacy Council has published a user-friendly explanation of lifecycle analysis, along with sample analyses of a cell phone and a computer chip. More in-depth information is available from the United Nations Environmental Programme.

Read more about David de Rothschild’s ECO TRIP on THE GREEN.

Image credit: Robyn Gallagher at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.