What constitutes Ecopresence – and who should care
As I talked about in our introduction, ecopresence is a combination. The analysis to be put forward must talk about the resources consumed as well as the resources not consumed. Resources consumed should be kept to a minimum, for example, a device when in operation may be more ecologically friendly than the same device by another manufacturer that while in operation consumes less power. Clearly in terms of consumption the second device is more efficient and could be considered more ecologically friendly. However, this may not be the entire story. Let’s say the second products while it consumes less power, lasts for twice as long. This puts less items in the landfill and fewer items are consumed in manufacturing. So now is the second more ecopresence friendly? Say the first item was biodegradable, while the second was not?
For a good analysis we have to put forward quite a few factors
- Production or the amount resources consumed in the creation of the product
- Consumption – the amount of resources consumed when the product is performing its function
- Lifespan, the amount of time the product is in service
- The retirement would be the amount of waste when the product is retired from service.
- The benefit of using a product to the environment
The resources consumed in production can take many forms; among them could include, packaging or the way the product is wrapped for delivery, the amount of recycled good used in the item itself, the power and other factors used in the manufacturer of the product.
Similarly the consumption of resources during the operation can take many forms. Some products consume energy, some have consumables such as filters, which might have to be serviced regularly and some need regular service which may require manpower and other consumables.
Lifespan has several factors which affect the price. One is the resource cost of is the item itself in that regard, the if two items consume similar resources to manufacture but one lasted twice as long, the other would consume twice the resources in the operation, however this does not tell the entire story. There are also costs associated with replacing the shorter lived component. These costs may be in labor, material, or consumables. Costs may also be incurred by the loss of productivity while the resource is being serviced.
The retirement of the product or the consumables within the product would be taken into account when the product is taken out of operation. the recyclable nature of the product itself should be taken into account when analyzing this feature. The classic case of this would be the florescent light bulb. While the florescent light bulb consumes less power than the incandescent bulb, there is mercury within the bulb making disposal both expensive and environmentally dangerous.
While it is difficult to quantify the first and fourth items economically, there are some reasonable expectations that cost factors can be used as a guide for the analysis of the second and third factors. That is, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a device has implications within the amount of consumables used during the life of the product, the amount of resources consumed servicing the product as well as the frequency of replacement.
The first four factors, clearly address the life cycle costs of any product, the last looks at the problem in a different way; it discusses the ecological benefits of using a technology of other technologies. A fax machine, for example while increasing paper and printing costs, reduces the amount of resources that would be consumed delivering the paper in another way; The cost of an envelope, labor costs, travel costs. Email transmission improves on the fax machine by reducing the disposable items. Videoconferencing may reduce the travel associated with a meeting. Similar to way the TCO can help analyze the use of consumables, the Return on Investment (ROI) can help analyze the resources not consumed when using this product over another technology. If videoconferencing can reduce the amount of travel, that in turn reduces the cost to the pocketbook as well as the environment.