A look behind the scenes – Sustainability Management and Life Cycle Engineering at the Fraunhofer IST

Interview /

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Sustainability, circular economy, energy and resource efficiency - catchwords that are currently on everybody’s lips. Companies are faced with the major challenge of meeting the growing demands of a sustainability strategy and thereby providing a contribution towards a climate-friendly and resource-conserving future. The topic of sustainability also plays a significant role at the Fraunhofer IST; the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is an integral part of many projects at the institute. With this in mind, the Fraunhofer IST is establishing the new “Sustainability Management and Life Cycle Engineering” department. In the following interview, Head of Department Prof. Dr. Stephan Krinke presents the goals, tasks and requirements. 

What are the focal points of the department? 

In the area of sustainability management, we advise companies on the alignment of their strategy, products and processes with the key sustainability goals (Sustainable Development Goals of the UN) relevant to the company and integrating these into business processes and decisions. The ecological, social and economic opportunities and risks of an organization are thereby identified, and measures are developed to manage them.

In the area of Life Cycle Engineering (LCE), we develop methods with which sustainability can be measured and, consequently, managed. LCE is an approach aimed at designing products and processes, thereby taking the entire life cycle into account. It provides companies with a tool with which to improve their products through the minimization of environmental impacts, the maximization of resource efficiency and the development of sustainable solutions.

How can sustainability be measured? 

Through the analysis of ecological, social and economic impacts by means of indicators and evaluation systems (e.g. LCA, LCC, S-LCA), progress towards sustainability can be quantified and evaluated. The most well-known are the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and the product carbon footprint. Depending on the objective and focus, the methods to be selected vary. Other approaches concentrate, for example, on the efficiency of resource utilization, biodiversity and many other aspects.

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LCE, LCA, LCC: there are numerous abbreviations. What exactly do they mean?

Life Cycle Costing (LCC) evaluates the total costs of a product throughout its entire life cycle. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) evaluates the environmental impact of a product or service. Life Cycle Engineering (LCE) involves the identification of technical measures – based on a Life Cycle Assessment – in order to enable the sustainable optimization of a product or process.

What contribution does the Fraunhofer IST provide for its customers in the area of Life Cycle Engineering?

Our LCE tools support business processes from the early phase (production planning, product development and procurement) through to the finished product, and identify optimization potential along the course of the process. We develop instruments for quantifying both the product carbon footprint (PCF) and the corporate carbon footprint (CCF), and offer customized learning modules in training programs on various topics relating to sustainability and LCE.

What were the highlights in the reporting year? 

The department is involved in large-scale European research projects and various industrial projects that cover all facets of Life Cycle Engineering and sustainability topics. Our projects include, for example, “TranSensus LCA”, which aims to define and harmonize a standardized and applied Life Cycle Assessment approach for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV). Furthermore, within the framework of the “HiQ-LCA” project, we are working on the provision of high-quality LCA data for lithium battery production. In order to ensure significant steps towards sustainability, the department also advises industrial partners such as the Friedhelm Loh Group (which we are supporting in the development of a sustainability strategy), Volkswagen and many other companies.

What are the plans for the future? 

We will expand projects that focus on sustainable products and processes in industry, and will also consolidate far-reaching collaborations and partnerships. The current focus lies on the mobility sector. In the future, we will also expand our expertise to the chemicals sector and in the area of metal and raw-material extraction. One focus will thereby lie on the circular economy, with which closed material cycles and a resilient value chain can be achieved. The work will not only boost growth, but also promote innovation in order to address industry-specific challenges. The aim is to establish the department as a center of excellence for research and development in the field of sustainability management through the consistent implementation of sustainability practices and standards in companies and the application of novel Life Cycle Engineering approaches.

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