Hands-on tools to assess sustainability of products – based on a novel methodology

Project news

VTT together with 16 research partners developed a set of methods, training materials and other tools for the life cycle sustainability assessment of products. This toolbox is based on a new comprehensive methodology created in the project.

Methods to assess environmental, social and economic impacts of products are essential when aiming at sustainability and circular economy. Existing methods, however, are often inconsistent and limited in scope, and lack sufficient tools. The ORIENTING project took up this challenge and developed a comprehensive operational methodology for the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) of products and services.

The new methodology includes the analysis of environmental, social and economic impacts and takes into account the circularity and criticality of products and materials. Besides the methodology, the project team developed a toolbox of methods, training materials and other resources to help companies, organizations and researchers implement life cycle sustainability assessments to products, services and processes in practice.

To support all companies and policy makers

The research and innovation project ORIENTING brought together 17 companies and research organizations from across Europe for three and a half years. They presented the results of the project in April 2024 in Brussels, Belgium. The Final Conference included an accelerator session in the World Circular Economy Forum 2024, which allowed the project team to share and discuss the results with policy makers, industrial actors and a broad range of other stakeholders.

The ORIENTING project aims to boost sustainability transition in all companies, with a particular focus on SMEs, and help the EU accomplish the European Green Deal. The project team has engaged with policy makers to discuss the use of LCSA in policy processes and to identify what is needed to create a market for sustainable products and activities in the European Union.

Industry partners tested the LCSA methodology

The LCSA methodology created in the project has been tested with products of five project partners from different sectors: indoor paints (BASF, chemicals), concrete recycling technology (Leiblein, construction), three tomato-based products (Solana, agrifood), beverage carton package (Stora Enso, packaging) and outdoor jacket (Ternua, textiles).

Testing of the methodology successfully demonstrated its applicability and helped the involved companies in identifying their sustainability hotspots and gaining insights into previously unknown aspects of their supply chains.

All the work done during the project has been built upon existing initiatives, standards and principles and has focused on lowering barriers for the implementation in all kinds of companies. Thanks to the two levels of the assessment, both beginners and advanced users are supported in introducing the concept of life cycle thinking and the principle of double materiality, as well as applying the LCSA to their products.

The ORIENTING toolbox to guide through the assessment

The toolbox developed in the project will guide users throughout the sustainability assessment process.

The first component of the toolbox is the LCSA methodology, which is accompanied by a handbook and supplementary methodological reports and templates. These resources offer guidance for conducting a comprehensive LCSA, as well as for examining specific sustainability domains and topics in isolation, including life cycle assessment, life cycle costing, social life cycle assessment, circularity and criticality assessment. The LCSA methodology is addressed to in-house sustainability departments, practitioners of sustainability assessment and policy makers.

The second component is the entry-level materiality assessment, a support package that guides users towards a preliminary identification and understanding of potentially relevant sustainability topics and impacts in the product life cycle. This package is addressed to companies, particularly SMEs, and beginners and less experienced users in life cycle approaches. It also offers information about the product life cycle and about the double materiality concept adapted at product level.

The third component is the LCSA integration tool that supports the interpretation of the LCSA results, shows hotspot aspects, compares diverse scenarios and provides other useful information. The tool, addressed to users familiar with LCSA and life cycle-based methods, also generates an integrated visualisation of the results and offers calculations towards aggregated scores.

Finally, the last component of the toolbox is the set of training materials that offers LCSA practitioners a detailed and step-by-step learning plan, considering different levels of expertise. These modular materials facilitate the practical implementation of the methodology while accommodating the diverse needs of users. They also serve a dual purpose by functioning both as self-learning material and a training package.

A broad mix of partners in the project

The project partners covered a broad spectrum of industries and scientific disciplines and provided a critical mass of expertise and excellence in key areas. Besides VTT, the partners were Aclima, Anthesis, BASF, Ecoinnovazione, Ecoinvent, Ecopreneur.eu, Eifer, Fraunhofer, Leiblein, PRé, Solana, Stora Enso, Ternua Group, Universiteit Gent, University for the Creative Arts. ORIENTING was coordinated by Tecnalia Research and Innovation.

ORIENTING was funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, one of the biggest EU Research and Innovation programmes ever. The project started on the 1st of November 2020 and ran for 42 months with an overall budget of 6 million euros.

Project website: https://orienting.eu/ 
ORIENTING Toolbox will be made available at the project website during summer 2024. 

Hanna Pihkola
Hanna Pihkola
Research Team Leader
Michael Hanf
Michael Hanf
Our vision beyond 2030

Every phase of a product’s lifecycle from raw material to end product as a part of recycling needs to be understood as well as possible. In this way, we can save important natural resources, reduce emissions and create new markets.