Product environmental footprinting – also called product life cycle assessment (LCA) – is a method of evaluating environmental impacts of a product or material across its life cycle, including supply chain, manufacturing, transport, use, and discards. By demonstrating where in the life cycle the largest impacts occur and comparing alternatives, product footprinting can help businesses prioritize their sustainability efforts and invest in actions that result in deeper and more meaningful benefits.
Previous research commissioned by the States of Oregon and Washington documented that some businesses report environmental and/or financial benefits from evaluating the environmental footprints of their products. But not all do. Many businesses report difficulty conducting or understanding product footprint studies.
In response, the Washington Department of Ecology and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, working with the Oregon Sustainability Board, commissioned four diverse case studies of businesses with experience evaluating their product environmental footprints. The businesses have used product environmental footprinting to assess environmental conditions, identify opportunities for improvement, uncover business potential, and communicate with customers. The case studies highlight benefits, challenges, lessons learned and best practices.
The case studies include:
- A furniture company’s ability to create new tools to identify opportunities for improvement in evaluating and communicating the environmental impacts of its products
- A manufacturer’s ability to provide credible, third-party LCA testing results with consumers to substantiate environmental claims
- A life cycle assessment that lends credibility to the environmental benefits of small batch digital printing
- How a food company used an internally developed and externally reviewed LCA to understand the impact and resource use along the supply chain of its flagship product