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ESG Trivia: What’s Really Eco-Friendly? Quantifying Environmental Impact with Life Cycle Assessment

Date of issue: 2024-06-04

The first phase of the new regulation on disposable plastic tableware is now in effect, prompting some restaurants to switch to wood or paper alternatives. However, some citizens question whether these materials are genuinely more environmentally friendly. While certain organisations advocate for the reuse of tableware, the public remains concerned about the water and energy consumed in cleaning and transporting these items. How should we evaluate this from an environmental perspective? 

To address these questions, we need data-driven, science-based methods. Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one such internationally recognised approach. LCA analyses the potential environmental impacts of a product throughout its entire life cycle—from raw material sourcing, production, and transport, to sale, use, and disposal or recycling. 

Through LCA, companies can quantify the environmental impacts of their products, develop strategies to improve their environmental performance, and provide evidence of their products' environmental impact. For example, a company that offers recycled gold jewellery conducted an LCA last year and discovered that the carbon emissions from its recycled gold were over 99% lower than those from mined gold. Greenpeace also published an LCA study last year in East Asia, focusing on reusable tableware. The study found that each reusable cup used in Hong Kong could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 25% and water consumption by 37% compared to disposable cups. 

LCA enables companies to systematically manage the environmental impact of their products and provides scientific evidence for their environmental claims, playing an important role in addressing "greenwashing". Additionally, LCA offers the public a scientific basis for making informed consumer choices.

 

James Chan,
Co-founder, PIE Strategy 


The above ESG Trivia is provided by PIE Strategy, the Knowledge & Strategy Partner of the Caring Company Scheme.