What’s measured can be managed and what’s managed can be reduced, so say Swiss-based company Quantis, one of the leading companies in the field of quantitative environmental assessment. They have put life-cycle assessments (LCA), used to measure carbon footprints, at the heart of their business, which, in eight short years, has soared to new heights.

ISO Focus talked to Quantis’ Damien Friot and Julien Boucher about the truth behind LCA and the two standards that are at the forefront.

ISO Focus : Quantis was founded in 2006 as a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). How has it evolved over the past eight years?

Damien Friot/Julien Boucher: In the beginning, monitoring environmental footprints was quite rare outside of academia, so our objective was to build a loose network of experts and to diffuse our scientific knowledge as widely as possible. After a few years, it became clear that a new trend was emerging. The publication of ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 provided the first framework for the environmental comparison of products (and communication of environmental claims) and helped raise the credibility of LCA-generated metrics.

Now, due to growing environmental awareness, the focus is changing to simple metrics. Corporations are being asked to consistently and continuously assess, improve and communicate the environmental scores of their products. This requires standardized, simple reporting frameworks and harmonized datasets to ensure comparability.

Thinking ahead to the future, are there particular business opportunities in which you hope to make headway?

Several initiatives on environmental labelling of consumer goods are currently underway in France and the European Union, and we are developing Product Category Rules and calculating a product footprint that’s more cost-effective. We refer to this as “ streamlined LCA ”.

A number of challenges still remain, however, including:

  • The need to ensure the quality of the resulting environmental metrics by participating in the development of these frameworks,
  • The requirement to make Quantis evolve from delivering high-cost expertise to lower-cost mainstream assessments and
  • To tackle this new market by integrating both services and software, since easy LCA software was, and still is, lacking.

The development of several reporting standards, such as ISO 14064 for the carbon footprint of products, the Green- house Gas Protocol and many other national standards are making great inroads. And this is only the beginning.

You’ve been participating in standards for over a decade. What have you learned over the past few years ?

We are convinced that standards play an important role for spreading the use of LCA while ensuring robustness and credibility of the calculated metrics. Most of Quantis' associates participate in different standards developments, including the recent ISO standards on water footprint (ISO 14046) and ecodesign (ISO 14006).

We now need to engage in a new vision in order to move from assessment to action

When companies invest in LCA, how do you make sure their money is not wasted ?

Our experience and research shows that neither environmental management systems nor LCAs will guarantee environmental improvements, but it is an important step.

The barriers that businesses face relate to business strategy, corporate structure, decision-making processes, information management, corporate culture and employee performance management. Today, we are at a crossroads. Coming from end-of-pipe solutions in the 1970s to environmental management systems in the 1990s, and further to environmental information systems in the years 2000, we now need to engage in a new vision in order to move from assessment to action.

Any new projects or plans on the horizon?

We are now on a new path aimed at integrating environmental management and information within core business activities (rather than a “silo mentality”), and focusing on actors rather than on problems.

To achieve this vision, we have recently founded a consulting and research organization called Shaping Environmental Action. It is dedicated to applying these principles in companies and developing new tools and methods for environ- mental management based on an actor-oriented approach. The logical next step for these developments may be standardization, but this is still a long way to go.

Two men with a vision: Julien Boucher and Damien Friot of Quantis International