Data helps us tell the story of our efforts to be green.

But what do the numbers actually mean?

When we talk about data what we’re really talking about is gathering impact data information through an LCA, or Life Cycle Analysis.

Life Cycle Analysis is perhaps the most common method for gathering the data needed to determine the “greenness” of a product or service.

Understanding what a Life Cycle Analysis is and how it’s created is essential to making data literacy work for your green marketing needs.

So what exactly is an LCA? Let’s walk through an example.

  1. Let’s think about an organic cotton t-shirt. We have to first define the scope for an LCA.

This can be cradle to grave (going from the growing of organic cotton to end of life), cradle to gate (stopping at the sale of a product), or gate to gate (between two specific points in the supply chain.

  1. Next we take inventory of the flow of materials and energy at each point in the supply chain.

A typical cotton t-shirt goes through the following broad steps:

  • growth and harvesting of the cotton,
  • spinning of thread,
  • dying,
  • knitting, cutting and sewing,
  • packaging and distribution,
  • purchase and use,
  • discard and disposal.

Plus all of transportation in between.

  1. If we look at the inventory of what’s above, you can immediately see there is a lot of water use in harvesting and energy use for farming. There’s also energy and emissions involved in each step of the way during production. And let’s not forget the emissions for transport.
  2. Once we have the inventory of all the pieces in the chain, we can assess the relevance of each energy flow and interpret its impact.

One common method of interpretation is to look at a comparative supply chain. In the case of an organic cotton t-shirt, this could mean comparing it to conventional cotton t-shirt.

  1. And here’s what an LCA assessment can look like:


But where do we get the info?

Good question!

Data for LCA’s is ideally collected from every step of the product pipeline, from raw materials to shelf-ready, by researchers from around the globe.

Today there are massive databases, or Life Cycle Inventory, that gather and organize information according to ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 standards.

These standards set out the parameters for all Life Cycle Inventory, ensuring that every LCA is based on a standardized set of norms and information protocols.

With accurate and full-scope data we get a better picture of where our green efforts are paying off and where we need more work.

Ready to see an LCA in action? Check out our research on the Secret to Green Marketing!