LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH SALLY YINGST
28 April 2021
LCA or Life Cycle Assessment – this is a term that many of us have heard, but what does it really mean and why are they important?
We speak to Sally Yingst, Product and Packaging Sustainability Manager at Deckers Brands, to discuss the value of an LCA and how UGG, as part of Deckers brands, is utilizing this data to better understand our environmental and circular footprint to drive forward our sustainability strategy.
As the Product and Packaging Sustainability Manager at Deckers Brands, what are your primary responsibilities?
I am responsible for overseeing the environmental aspects of our product materials and packaging throughout the entire value chain. As part of my role, I also help identify targets for each of our brands which ladder up to our larger Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Additionally, I get the opportunity to assess and research current and upcoming technologies to further our sustainability journey, from global infrastructure changes to material innovations. What I truly love about my role is that I am challenged – constantly balancing environmental performance with financial. I am honored that I get to work with various stakeholders throughout our organization who are passionate about driving progress towards a sustainable future.
What is an LCA, and why are LCA tools important in terms of sustainability accounting?
An LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) measures the environmental footprint of anything that requires resources to make. This could be a product, a material, or an organization’s overall footprint. A Life Cycle Assessment is broken up into different “gates,” or stages of the life cycle: raw material extraction, raw material manufacturing, product assembly, transportation, use, and end of life.
It is best to evaluate a product by these gates to holistically see where the largest impact, and therefore opportunity for improvement, exists. Then you can model and analyze preferred alternatives and see how different choices, like material selection, can change the data and impact. We use this data to advise potential solutions to larger stakeholders, including our brands.
Through our LCA, we measure various metrics that we see as key to our organization and for achieving our Sustainable Development Goals and the targets that live within them.
Specifically, it’s a mix of both quantitative metrics (water use, greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation) and qualitative metrics (certified materials, recycled content, availability to recycle). An LCA tool is important as it provides unbiased data to direct our decision-making.
How did you go about developing your LCA?
After thorough interviews, we retained a third-party Life Cycle Assessment software tool that we felt would best suit UGG and Deckers. To be able to run an LCA, inventory data must be found, so a questionnaire was sent to all of our material suppliers to assess a variety of details about every material our brands have ever used in their products. To name a few: material composition, material certifications, how the material is manufactured, dye methods, waste generation, and waste diversion. The list of metrics is endless and evolves over time. After the material supplier’s inventory data is collected, validated, and confirmed, the data jumps through many of our systems to create output data (a completed LCA).
Through using this process, we are able to get a really clear understanding of the impacts that occur from the raw material and raw material manufacturing gates. We request many metrics from our suppliers to allow our organization to talk about sustainability in an honest and meaningful way.
How is your LCA tool currently being used to support your sustainability goals and strategy?
We used our tool to identify the baseline of our impact – thus the footprint of our organization. We are firm believers that an organization cannot set targets and identify a strategy without first understanding their current state through measurement. Once a baseline is established and validated, we analyze it to create priorities that we then address in a systematic way. We communicate these priorities with all our brands and monitor progress year over year.
We can also use our LCA tool in a hierarchical setting. For example, we can (1) compare a material to a material, (2) a part of a shoe to another part of a shoe (e.g. the upper) and compare it to a preferred state or (3) a current product to a future version using preferred materials. A key example for UGG is the data we received comparing our repurposed wool to virgin wool. The material LCA showed that we significantly reduced our footprint by using repurposed wool from our sheepskin hides rather than sourcing virgin market wool.
In FY20, UGG used approximately 3 Million lbs. of repurposed wool.
Repurposed wool comes from the trimmings of the sheepskin used in our twinface sheepskin product. When comparing conventional virgin market wool usage to the same usage of repurposed wool, we saved:
- 145 MILLION MJ OF ENERGY
- 9.35 BILLION GALLONS OF WATER
- 104 MILLION LBS OF CO2 EQ.
Alongside this, the LCA tool enables us to challenge the often-thought ideology that sustainability means added expenses. Sometimes it will be more expensive (for example, pursuing a more preferred material could come with a premium), but often it’s just looking at what you have and questioning whether it is needed. Simply asking, “Why are we using this material? Can it be removed or re-engineered to be more preferred?” In the end, asking these questions can not only improve a product’s environmental footprint but could also improve a product economically.
What successes have already come out of using the LCA tool?
Quite frankly, having the visibility and understanding of our environmental and circular footprint (quantitative and qualitative) – specifically our materials – is a huge success in and of itself. It’s powerful stuff!
Sustainability is a journey and one which we are fully committed to. Our LCA tool has allowed us to attach additional value-added metrics to our supply chain to help us systematically and objectively track the progress we are making along this journey. There is always more that can be done, which is what drives me.
Find out more about our sustainability journey here.