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What is a life cycle assessment?

A life cycle assessment (LCA; also called ecobalance) is a method for analysing environmental impacts of a product or service that considers the entire life cycle, starting with the procurement of the raw material, through processing, distribution, use and end-of-life disposal. A life cycle analysis calculates in detail for a product or service the energy and resource use and the potential health and environmental impacts. For this purpose, various indicators such as energy and raw material consumption or the release of pollutants are taken into account. Life cycle analysis can be used, for example, to determine which of two products uses fewer resources or which is more environmentally friendly. There are different types of life cycle analysis, which, among other things, consider different phases of the life cycle of a product. One aspect, for example, is the calculation of the carbon footprint.

The ISO 14044:2006 standard specifies certain requirements and provides guidelines for life cycle analysis.

What means circular economy?

In the linear economy, also called the “throwaway economy”, large parts of the raw materials used are landfilled or incinerated after the respective use phase of products. In contrast to that, the circular economy is designed to recycle a large part of the raw materials used after product usage, or to extend the use phase of a product through durable construction. Other measures include reducing emissions and energy use, maintenance, repair and reuse. Recycling is seen as the last means of choice in the circular economy.

Can innovative materials stop climate change?

In addition to measures such as reforestation or moorland rewetting, material innovations are an instrument against climate change. Innovative materials in products such as solar cells or batteries, for example, can help to ensure that more solar energy is converted into electricity, regenerative energies are better stored, fewer raw materials are used and overall fewer climate-damaging emissions are produced. Combined with improved recycling strategies, these measures help to slow down climate change. But this can only succeed in connection with further societal transformation processes (e.g. mobility, urban development).

How are sustainability and climate change connected?

A sustainable life style helps to protect the climate. The mere use of public transport or the bicycle instead of the car by individuals saves a large amount of CO2. In addition, many more people can be transported at the same time by bus or train. Replacing old appliances with modern ones with high energy efficiency classes provides enormous energy savings (e.g. light bulbs with LED lighting). Innovative materials make it possible to generate renewable energy, for example. Hydrogen produced in this way (green hydrogen) can contribute to modern mobility.

What is the importance of recycling for sustainability?

Recycling is the process of reprocessing discarded reusable materials into a new product. By collecting, separating and recycling reusable materials, raw materials are recovered and resources are conserved. The recovered raw materials can be used for the production of new products and waste is avoided. However, recycling is only truly sustainable when the raw materials can be recovered with as little energy input as possible, and the resulting material is of high purity. For the sustainability of a product, the reduction of raw material use in production and a longer service life have a higher significance.

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