Functional unit and product functionality—addressing increase in consumption and demand for functionality in sustainability assessment with LCA

Seung Jin Kim, Sami Kara, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

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    Abstract

    Purpose: The static functional unit definition in the current LCA framework has limitations in addressing the changing product functionality and associated environmental impact of constantly evolving product technologies. As a result, it overlooks the changes in consumer behaviour of increased consumption of products in provided services as well as in growing volumes. This article aims to present a new framework in defining a dynamic functional unit of product technologies that caters for changes in consumer behaviour and growing market. Methods: A new approach to defining the functional unit is proposed that caters for changes in consumer behaviour and the use of technology from a technical performance perspective. A dynamic approach to definition of the functional unit is proposed that is based on Kano’s model of product function and satisfaction. Results and discussion: The new approach is demonstrated on a case study in which the analysis of historical data for two TV product technologies—CRT and LCD—is used to show how the total environmental impact is increasing due to the increased functionality which triggers an increase in the volume of the market. Despite the efforts of improving product life cycle design, the society is still faced with increasing environmental impact from the product type overall. Conclusions: This article presents the challenges of using a static, single functional unit definition in an industrial culture with constant evolution of products that influences usage behaviour and demonstrates the vicious circle of improving product efficiency that leads to further consumption and environmental impact. To address this problem, a new framework of dynamic functional unit definition is put forward for performing comparative LCA to manage the development of product life cycle design that helps keep the total environmental impact of the company’s product portfolio within absolute boundaries.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
    Volume22
    Issue number8
    Pages (from-to)1257–1265
    ISSN0948-3349
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Keywords

    • Environmental Science (all)
    • Comparative LCA
    • Functional unit
    • Market volume
    • Product technology
    • Sustainability

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