Sustainability is set to play a prominent role in device development throughout 2023 and beyond. This week, Senior Design Engineer & Sustainability Champion, Will Morris discusses using LCA as a tool for sustainable medical device development:

So, what is an LCA?

According to ISO14040, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) addresses the environmental aspects and potential environmental impacts throughout a product’s life cycle; from raw material acquisition, throughout production, use, end-of-life treatment, recycling, and, final disposal.

What’s involved in an LCA?

There are 4 main phases in an LCA study:

1. Goal and Scope Definition

The depth and breadth of an LCA can differ considerably depending on the goal and scope of a particular LCA. A true or accurate LCA factors for the full product lifecycle, including raw material, processing, transportation, use, and waste/recovery. It’s common for some LCA’s not to account for some of these phases due to factors such as the availability of accurate data, the level of effort required to conduct the LCA, or decisions to hone focus on the high-impact phases for a particular device/system.

2. Inventory Analysis

This phase is aimed at gathering the input/output data regarding the device/system in question and creating an inventory of information and data to review throughout the assessment.

3. Impact Assessment

This phase supports the inventory analysis phase and provides additional information regarding the device/system being studied to better understand the environmental significance.

4. Interpretation

This final phase summarises the results of the LCA and can include recommendations for further decision making relative to the scope and goal of the device/system LCA.

 

Why do an LCA?

An LCA is a incredibly useful tool to help measure the environmental impact of a device or system. Without conducting an LCA, the true environmental impact is unknown.

An LCA helps inform decision making, whether it be design teams faced with the challenge of designing a more environmentally friendly solution, a procurement team faced with the challenge of purchasing more sustainable devices or, a consumer wishing to reduce their environmental impact.

LCA Criticisms:

A device/system’s environmental impact can appear to be relatively minor however, when you review the scope of the LCA, it may be that certain things have been removed or, the scope of the LCA is limited. An example of two very different LCA scopes are shown below:

 

Oftentimes it’s incredibly difficult to obtain actual data for most of your inventory therefore, you must rely on industry averages which may or may not be accurate for the particular device/system being studied.

Sustainability can be defined as the triple bottom line of environmental, social and financial factors. When reviewing an LCA, financial factors are rightfully out of scope however, the social implications of a device/system can be quite meaningful and could be justifiable to include into a social LCA.

As a device development consultancy, an LCA is an incredibly valuable assessment tool and one that we strongly recommend to all of our clients and projects. Without data, we’re unable to make informed decisions. So, without an LCA for a device, we’re unable to say “device A is more environmentally friendly than device B”. Without and LCA we’re blind to the magnitude of the environmental impact we’re truly causing.

As previously discussed, LCA’s aren’t perfect and there are limitations to their true efficacy however, there are emerging systems like the Product Environmental Footprint, aiming to help harmonise and standardise the impact assessment method. That being said, Life Cycle Assessment is a tool that we can use today to help build a better and healthier world for tomorrow.

If you would like any further advice or guidance on the effective use of LCA to enhance the sustainability of your new product or medical device development project, we would gladly help – please get in touch.

William Morris - Senior Design Development Engineer & Business Development Manager at Haughton Design Will Morris 3 January 2023

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Get in Touch with Will Morris

Senior Design Development Engineer & Business Development Manager

Will graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a degree in Product Design. Prior to Haughton Design, Will worked for Renishaw, where he led the industrial design for the current and next generation metal Additive Manufacturing machines. Will has a strong interest in Design for Sustainability, and the Circular Economy, looking to reduce companies’ environmental impact and often teaches about design engineering at local STEM events. Outside of work, Will enjoys Formula 1, rugby and travelling with friends.

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