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Creating value through life-cycle assessment

It is no accident that Xylem has recently released a range of products that help customers improve energy efficiency and reduce costs. Read on to find out how Xylem’s dedicated research is helping users lower energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprint.

Cathrin Stock’s job at Xylem is to see the big picture. As a sustainability manager who performs life-cycle assessments (LCAs), her job is to understand how a product is born, how it lives, and how it dies – and possibly even how it is reincarnated. But the process is far from otherworldly.

“Doing a life-cycle assessment is a rather time-consuming process,” Stock says. “You have to break down each product into all its parts, then for each part calculate the environmental impact for all the materials that go into it. Then you have to calculate the environmental impact from emissions and use of resources during the entire life-cycle of the product, from extraction of raw materials to disposal.”

So why go to all the trouble? “Our work with LCAs has given us important knowledge about where in the product life-cycle we have the greatest environmental impact,” she says. “This is valuable information, since it tells us where to focus our efforts. With our Flygt pumps, for example, we have learned that over 95 percent of their environmental impact relates to electricity consumption during their usage with the customer. The major focus in our product development, therefore, is to constantly create more energy efficient products.”

Helping customers compare and decide

After a life-cycle assessment is completed, it gets turned into an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). EPDs are certified in accordance with the ISO 14025 standard, and are part of the International EPD System. This system aims to “help and support organizations to communicate the environmental performance of their products (goods and services) in a credible and understandable way.” (Read more at: www.environdec.com.)

In other words, the EPD System creates an international, standardized process for understanding and comparing the environmental impact of products. Xylem has developed 17 EPDs for its high-volume products, including drainage and sewage pumps, which are verified by the global, independent certification body Det Norske Veritas.

Requesting a Climate Declaration

“We are seeing an increasing interest for data about carbon dioxide emissions related to our products,” says Stock. “We can provide our customers with carbon footprint information through our Climate Declarations, which describe the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by a product during its life-cycle. The information in the Climate Declarations is extracted from the Environmental Product Declarations.”

While only a few countries, such as the UK and France, require information about carbon dioxide emissions from products, environmental footprints are on the European agenda, especially through the European Commission’s initiative “Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.” Xylem has decided to stay ahead of the game and is an industry leader in providing environmental information about its products.

When Europump, the European Association of Pump Manufacturers, started a working group in 2011 on carbon footprints for products, it selected Cathrin Stock as its chairperson. “Xylem was very early in doing life-cycle assessments for our products, and in creating EPDs, so this working group was a great opportunity to draft new product category rules in dialogue with representatives for the pump industry.”

Better products for a better future

Xylem is currently undergoing an additional certification process, so that it will be able to produce many more EPDs for its products. This means that customers can be better informed, make better decisions, and save money. And that Cathrin Stock’s work of taking apart products and imagining their future is far from over – but she’s not complaining.

“Sustainability needs to be integrated with our business to really make a difference, not just something on a separate track,” Stock says. “This is why we are developing energy efficient products, and thus taking responsibility for how our products affect the environment. We focus our efforts where they give the best effect – both for the environment and for the life-cycle cost of the customers.”

Click here to read more about Xylem’s Environmental Product Declarations.

by Chad Henderson