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An expert perspective on Life Cycle Assessment

Interview with Yves Loerincik, CEO, Quantis

  Carbon      Environment    

Nespresso has a very good scientific approach when dealing with environmental impacts”

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m an engineer in physics from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and I have a PhD in the field of life cycle assessment. I’m one of the co-founders of Quantis, a specialist environmental consultancy, which was established in 2006. I’ve more than 10 years of experience in life cycle assessment and environmental impact evaluation.

We know that life cycle assessment (LCA) is a highly technical process. Can you try to simplify it for us?

LCA is a methodology that can be used to evaluate, calculate and quantify the environmental impact of a product, a service or even a company. There are three characteristics that are very important. First, the idea is to consider the whole life cycle of a product, or the entire value chain of a business. We start with the extraction of raw materials through to the end-of-life of the product and all the different steps in between (such as use phase, packaging or transport). The second characteristic is that we evaluate the impact on the environment using different indicators: climate change (GHG emissions), resources (energy, primary materials), water, biodiversity and human health. What is very important to understand is that LCA is a scientific methodology and that everything we are evaluating is quantified. It is therefore a scientific approach to evaluate the impacts and use this as a basis for making informed decisions about the different options available.

In your experience, why do companies like Nespresso choose to conduct an LCA?

An LCA can be conducted to analyse a product or to position them against competitors, but most importantly to understand the hot spots and build a credible strategy. The aim is to tackle the most important impacts so that we can really influence the overall environmental impact. It is probably a bit of all of these reasons that motivated Nespresso to conduct an LCA. What we can say with certainty is that Nespresso has a very good scientific approach when dealing with environmental impacts - using LCA to quantify the impacts, identifying priorities, identifying actions, using LCA to evaluate the pertinence of these actions, to put them in place and communicate. And then, starting the process again to ensure continuous improvement.

Did you find anything surprising in the LCA for Nespresso?

Not surprising for us, but yes, the results could be surprising for consumers. Actually, the impacts are dominated by the coffee production and the electricity consumption of the machine. The capsule itself is not negligible and plays a significant role, as well as the washing of the cup. Depending on how the cup is washed, it can actually have a greater impact than the capsule. The benefit of a portion system is actually to reduce waste and to ensure a better extraction of the coffee flavour. This means that depending on the different scenarios (for example, how much wasted coffee and how much hot water is used), a Nespresso coffee can have a lower impact than a traditional one.

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