May 14, 2007

Major companies support Life Cycle Assessment research chair at Ecole Polytechnique

An International Industrial Chair in Life Cycle Assessment Methodology has been created within the Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG) at the Ecole Polytechnique de MontrÈal (EPM), with an initial budget of $4.5 million over five years.

Funding for the new chair has been committed by leading industrial and financial partners such as Alcan, Bell Canada, Cascades, Caisses Desjardins, Hydro Quebec, and Johnson & Johnson, as well as Arcelor-Mittal, ElectricitÈ de France/Gaz de France, Total, and Veolia Environnement. Each company will invest $450,000. RÈjean Samson and Louise DeschÍnes, professors in Ecole Polytechnique's chemical engineering department, have been named co-chairholders.

The LCA research and case study program will focus on the energy, telecommunications, pulp and paper, financial services, mining and metallurgy, environmental, and personal hygiene product sectors. The work carried out by the new Chair will generate new knowledge in the LCA field and lead to the application of management tools adapted to the specific requirements of industries and governments.

"The work of the LCA Chair will spur and support voluntary corporate actions towards sustainable production and consumption," co-chairholder RÈjean Samson observed, adding, "The Chair will provide additional tools to reduce the potential environmental impacts of corporate products and services, enabling businesses to remain competitive and take full responsibility for their actions on the social, economic, and environmental levels."

Life cycle assessment (LCA), a tool endorsed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), assesses the environmental profile of a product, a process or a service by taking into account the cradle-to-grave stages of its life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials through to end-of-life management, including the intermediate stages of production, transport and consumption.

Not only does LCA help reduce production costs through decreased energy and resource consumption, it offers the added benefit of avoiding the transfer of pollution from one life cycle stage to another or from one type of pollution to another. LCA provides a useful analytical framework when investment in a new technology or process is being considered, as well as in the implementation of an energy policy or a green procurement strategy.

LCA can also be used to compare the environmental performance of two products fullfilling the same function, for example, to evaluate whether bioethanol is an environmentally valid alternative to conventional gasoline. One of the partner case studies will use LCA to compare different work settings, including conventional full-time and part-time work as well as telecommuting, in order to determine which of these offers the best environmental option.

"Assessing the consequences related to telecommuting entails taking into account not only the avoided displacements by the employee, but also the resources used or avoided by this employee. Is there a vacant office in the building when the employee works from home? Is there duplication in material resources? Is the increase in energy consumption significant? These are all issues which must be addressed so as to determine the favorable conditions for telecommuting from an environmental standpoint," co-chairholder Louise DeschÍnes explained.

As part of its mandate, the Chair will train more than 30 students at the masters and doctoral levels. These highly skilled professionals will be among the valuable resources that the research will generate. At the international level, members will work closely with experts involved in UNEP's Life Cycle Initiative and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (UNEP-SETAC).

More information on the International Industrial Chair in Life Cycle Assessment Methodology is available on-line at

The CIRAIG, a network of eight Quebec universities, was established by Ecole Polytechnique, in collaboration with UniversitÈ de MontrÈal and HEC MontrÈal, to meet the needs of industry and governments for leading-edge academic expertise in sustainable development tools.

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