Creating Direct Business Advantage From Life Cycle Assessment

30 July 2019

Life cycle assessment (LCA) has a vital role to play if businesses are to successfully achieve a circular approach to design and manufacturing. As whole industries move away from the traditional linear ‘take-make–waste’ approach, valuable lessons have been learned. But which industry can the marine sector look to as it makes its own shift towards a circular model?

The automotive and marine industries share long and complex supply chains, with many materials in common and a long product life with similar end-of-life issues. And so the lessons learned from looking into manufacturing, transport and disposal processes within the automotive industry have relevance for marine businesses looking to embrace a circular economy.

Ian Ellison is a Senior Associate with The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), which develops leadership and solutions for a sustainable economy. 

We caught up with Ian to find out how he used life cycle assessment to create direct business advantage for one of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers. Here we share his insights about taking a sustainable approach for commercial advantage and how key lessons learned by the automotive sector can be translated to the marine industry from the optimising of materials to creating strategic partnerships to realising financial and environmental savings regardless of legislation.

Why use LCA?

“LCA provides a comprehensive perspective on the way a business impacts the environment and how it depends on it to provide critical resources. We hear of increasing pressure on the natural world every day now, so if companies can collectively reduce that pressure they can reduce risks, reduce costs, improve reputation and help ensure ongoing supply of resources.”

Optimising materials

“As the automotive industry came under increasing pressure to improve efficiency, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) increased the use of aluminium in its vehicles' bodies to reduce weight and tailpipe emissions and improve fuel consumption. However, as aluminium is more energy-intensive to produce than steel, therefore more expensive (both environmentally and economically) we needed to find a way to reduce the cost and the environmental impacts during production of aluminium.”

Power of partnerships

“Aluminium supplier Novelis also had a long-standing commitment to increasing its use of recycled materials year-on-year and required a like-minded customer with a similar appetite for improving sustainability performance. Together, Novelis and JLR spearheaded the collaboration known as REALCAR to introduce closed loop production* in the aluminium value chain, minimising the use of primary material and maximising the use of recycled aluminium during manufacturing, saving millions of pounds and millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. The results were impressive and REALCAR offered both companies credible financial payback, while contributing significantly to their sustainable business performances.”

*allowing for the recycling of materials and packaging into new ones.

Impact of recycled aluminium

A circular economy case study from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership: ‘Collaboration for a closed loop value chain: Transferrable learning points from the REALCAR project’

  • REALCAR is one of the innovations that has helped reduce the global warming potential of a Range Rover TDV6 by 13.8% over its lifetime.
  • Recycled aluminium requires up to 95% less energy during production than primary material, contributing to a significant reduction in the overall lifecycle impact of JLR vehicles.
  • From August 2014 to July 2015, over 30,000 tonnes of aluminium scrap were recovered from the workshop into JLR’s UK closed-loop recycling.

Cross industry application

“Many of the challenges faced in the REALCAR project are applicable to the creation and transformation of all value chains, not just to aluminium or the automotive sector, but also to other materials and sectors. If this could be achieved with automotive aluminium, then it should be possible to apply the same principles to other industries and commodities.”


“For JLR the most critical aspect of using LCA was in the move to electric vehicles (EVs). Traditionally, the automotive industry measures carbon footprint by looking at the g/km of carbon dioxide emissions. With there being no emissions directly from an EV, the industry standard measure of emissions per km suggested a ‘zero emissions’ vehicle. But, of course, there are emissions from all other parts of the life cycle, so during the development of the first EV, the Jaguar I-PACE, LCA was used to measure and ultimately minimise the environmental footprint not just carbon, but water, energy and other impacts such as air quality across the entire production chain. The car has gone on to win both World Green Car of the Year and World Car of the Year in 2019.” 

Making it count

“Embedding life cycle assessment into a business takes more than just creating a tool that can do the job. At JLR, the biggest improvements could only be made if the entire engineering population of the company were to be empowered to use LCA to test scenarios along the way before final designs were selected. A specialist software developer created a bespoke version of their intuitive, online tool that could be made available to all JLR engineers. Progressive leadership and unwavering support from a senior level provided confidence and momentum, and a forum to help remove roadblocks. With strong encouragement from senior management the tool then became part of the formal engineering process.”

Looking to the future

“LCA is part of a suite of tools and processes that allow businesses with manufactured assets to see their products and processes in-context, and this is what allows organisations to process planetary-level issues, such as those described by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, not just as lofty long-term targets, but something to positively and practically engage with to create direct business advantage.”


“I don’t believe legislation is always required here (nor would it be quick or easy to implement) as the insights and the savings, both financially and environmentally, provided by LCA and the circular economy more than justify their use. The main issue is developing and deploying the tools and data for use within individual businesses.”

Key takeaways

  • Collaboration is key to effecting change across supply and value chains - all parties must move towards shared values and broader project objectives, beyond the individual interests of each party.
  • Progressive leadership at a senior level will help to remove roadblocks and maintain momentum.
  • A bespoke, intuitive tool can empower a wide group of users to use LCA in a meaningful way.  to its full potential.
  • A legislative approach is not always needed for businesses to feel the environmental and financial benefits of working within a circular economy.