Since sustainability, at its heart, embodies the cradle-to-cradle concept, it makes sense to look across that sweep in determining how much can be standardized. Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool that can assist because it has been standardized by such entities as the International Standards Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency. Even so, that standardization relates to structure; it’s the skeleton upon which the user attaches the muscle.
LCA is as valuable as a mindset as it is as a tool because trying to enact it to the letter can entangle the packaging professional and the sustainability executive in data overload. The two should work cooperatively to devise a standardized version of an LCA that offers simplicity, but not at the expense of reliability and relevance.
An LCA can be useful as a means of comparison—bioplastics vs. petroplastics, for instance—but only to a point. It does not relieve the packaging professional or the sustainability executive from the need to rank the importance of the inputs of energy and resources and the outputs of emissions and wastes. Sustainability is often described in terms of the three P’s: Profits, Planet, People. However, under a given scenario, one of them might be deemed “more equal” than the others.