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April 2024 The Shift e-newsletter

ecoinvent State Level Data Webinar | How Human Beliefs Affect LCA | Upcoming Training

Free Webinar: 

State-level Agricultural Data: Collection and Effects on Life Cycle Assessment

DATE: April 25, 2024

TIME: 1pm-2pm ET

PRESENTER: Juanita Barrera, Senior Sustainability Advisor, EarthShift Global


In partnership with ecoinvent, EarthShift Global recently gathered data to build new datasets on grain corn (maize), soybeans, sweet corn, and potatoes based on the state in which the crop was grown. Gathering data on the state level was an important distinction because the differing agricultural practices (types and quantities fertilizers, pesticides and machinery, among other factors) can affect the environmental impacts.

The new ecoinvent datasets include a detailed description of the assumptions and calculations. This allows practitioners to use the data to trace how the calculations were developed and to make adjustments as appropriate.

In this webinar, a description of these datasets will be presented and we will discuss the effect of higher resolution data (state data level) on the LCA results.


Juanita Barrera has extensive LCA experience across a range of industries, with particular expertise in agriculture, textiles, and consumer products.

Juanita’s background includes evaluation of alternatives to recovering chromic acid from the water used for the production process of tin-free steel, and potential water reuse in the production cycle, and many projects related to the calculation of the Global Warming Potential of Biogenic Carbon Flows. She has also worked on projects for quantifying impacts and benefits related to Land Use Change.


Two Ways Human Beliefs Affect LCA

By John Rooks, Senior Research & Culture Advisor, EarthShift Global

Quality life cycle assessment (LCA) necessitates access to quality data. It’s math and science. There are formulas to follow and accepted models that expose risks and opportunities to mitigate negative impacts. The data and decisions of the process are seemingly fairly predictable, requiring a comparison of one process or material or supplier with others, and then weighing those impacts against cost, effort, impact and feature benefits. Hardly simple, I admit, but to a large degree knowable with degrees of uncertainty. Still, LCA does require a creative approach to yield the greatest insights; that creative approach is what sets EarthShift Global apart.

Adding human beliefs into the LCA equation can make the process and the reliability of the data more complicated, but also more valuable. When measuring the impact of transportation for mangos, for example, we don’t concern ourselves with the beliefs of the driver. But doing so where appropriate presents (at least) two strategies to remove enormous environmental impact from your products and organizations.

#1 Use Phase Research and Interventions

Consider five common life stages of an LCA – Material Extraction, Processing/Manufacturing, Transportation, Product Use-Phase, and Product Disposal. Three are metric-driven factors based on existing data modeled using well-established methodologies and LCI datasets. Two - Product Use Phase and Product Disposal – are unique in that the impacts are largely driven by human behavior – not corporate procurement policies or kilowatt hours. Consider what the apparel industry already knows – their Use Phase is the source of the largest water and carbon-related impacts in their products’ life cycles. If LCAs are designed to expose impact hot spots in a life cycle, then understanding those behaviors is critical. But understanding behavior is not enough if we want to shift that behavior. Shifting behavior requires an understanding of the beliefs that support the behaviors. If you think LCI data is complicated (and fun), try modeling human belief patterns.

But we can do it. In fact, we must do it because generic use phase data is particularly problematic in understanding actions, and ideally intervening with the worst of them.

Using a variety of research techniques (journey mapping, ethnography, personas and segmentations, diary and journal studies) can provide organizations with first-hand actionable research to accurately identify realistic Use Phase scenarios to model impacts. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies allows us to develop rigorous belief - and action-based models of product use. It’s not enough to simply ask “do you wash your jeans in hot or cold water?” We must understand why. What do consumers believe and where did that belief come from that creates the habit of a hot water double rinse? Once we understand the why, we can generate a series of interventions to “correct” the behavior. Levi Strauss’ CEO Chip Bergh famously went on a multi-year media blitz imploring consumers to not wash their jeans after Levi’s had completed an LCA. Their goal: make washing jeans uncool.

Once an accurate depiction of Use Phase – user beliefs, attitudes and barriers to change – is understood, we then develop and consult on the design of interventions (communications, campaigns, best-practices, language, instructions, even new product design) to change Use Phase Beliefs (UPB1) required to modify Use Phase Behaviors (UPB2) positively for the product life cycle assessment.

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Part Two: Employee Engagement

The following statement is true for companies who are just embarking on a sustainability journey as well as for those who have built a reputation or competitive advantage on it: employees are big bags of ideas walking around your factory floor.

During an Organizational LCA (O-LCA), we want to channel our inner Peter Drucker and pay significant attention to corporate culture via Employee Engagement. Drucker famously quipped (it is likely business folklore that Drucker actually said this, but let’s not allow facts get in the way of accuracy or a good story) that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So, it stands to reason that a corporate sustainability strategy that does not consider culture is bound to end up creating undo corporate friction.

Case in point: I was working with Interface Global on an 18-month employee engagement project designed to “better understand where our employees are in regards to our corporate Mission Zero objective to achieve no negative environmental impact” (Note: Interface has progressed well beyond that goal due in large part to their cultural efforts.) We were on-site at one of their production facilities interviewing a seasoned plant manager who reminded us – “if you’re looking for more efficiency out of a machine, you might want to talk to the person whose been operating it for 20 years.” It was a great reminder that corporate sustainability is best when it listens.

The project included interviews and understanding/ideation workshops with hundreds of employees across five countries and seven factories. We videoed the interactions and were producing mini-documentary films for each facility to be shared across the organization These were “warts and all” documentaries which intentionally did not filter out shortcomings, employee dissent, and confusion with the sustainability.

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Upcoming Online Training

Introduction to Life Cycle Assessment

April 17-18, 2024

Impact Assessment Methods

April 19, 2024

Introduction to Organizational Life Cycle Assessment - Free

May 15, 2024

Advanced Life Cycle Assessment - Interpretation

May 22-23, 2024

Practical Life Cycle Assessment

May 29-30, 2024 and recorded on demand

Organizational Life Cycle Assessment - 3 hours

June 4, 2024

Learn More