Life Cycle Assessment of Electronics

Life cycle assessment is a cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle analysis technique. It aims asses environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life. This includes all from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, and use. (Environmental Management, 2017)

Researchers at Fraunhofer IZM analyse the entire life cycle of electronic products and product groups. They do this on the basis of standardised benchmarks and ISO norms and develop optimisation proposals.

Ever more manufacturers and users are interested in the environmental impact that products have. The focus is not only on what a product can do. It is also on the conditions under which it was manufactured. This movement is also supported by politics. The “2nd Circular Economy Action Plan” of the European Commission outlines how environmental management and product design must be oriented in order to be as resource-saving and climate-neutral as possible.

The awareness of sustainable product development is growing, especially in the electronics industry: Leading companies like Apple publish key figures for their products in so-called Environmental Responsibility Reports. These comprehensive reports evaluate the complete product life cycle under ecological aspects.

Life cycle assessments comprise complex factors and, if possible, all conceivable scenarios. The energy consumption of the appliance is what counts in the evaluation, as well as repairs and maintenance. When an end product has reached the end of its useful life, recycling processes or disposal can also trigger further environmental impacts to be included in the overall life cycle assessment. “It is essential to have an understanding not only of the analysis but also of the technologies at stake. Only then can solution-oriented design improvements, suitable indicators and requirements for the supply chain be derived,” emphasises Karsten Schischke, expert for environmental assessment and ecodesign at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM. Schischke and his team have taken on the challenge posed by the fact that hardly any data on the service life and utility of new products is known.

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