The illustration brings together the flow of a product's journey from a raw resource to a usable product to disposal. There are two points of view relative to the product that should be considered—product integrity and the product's impact within the global supply-chain. In a traditional assessment, most consumers look at the first one. What is the product's quality? How well does it perform? Does it meet certain functional requirements?
In a life cycle analysis, a wider view of performance is important and includes considerations such as how the manufacturing and disposal affect people and the environment. We call these the life-cycle touchpoints. The above diagram outlines eight touchpoints that provide a helpful frame of reference for understanding the discussion. Third party agencies audit and report on a product's performance at many points of the entire life-cycle touchpoints. For example, a product with a fair trade certification may treat the labor component with greater equality while a UL listed product may only concern itself with the product's safety. These two certifications provide important information to the consumer but are on opposite sides of the Product Life Cycle.
ProductsDirect.com is engaging its suppliers to gather as much information as possible to provide our customers with value-added information so you can make a more informed purchase decision. We call this the Product Life Cycle Touchpoints for the Mindful Shopper™.
1. Materials Sourcing: To make anything, you have to start somewhere. The raw materials necessary to build something can come from the ground, air, and water, as well as from other products. This Touchpoint is often regulated by governments so as to prevent resource exploitation and environmental degradation.
2. Labor: Labor is always involved in product creation. The considerations include fair compensation, safe work environment(s), potential or real long term hazards inherent in the production process, and issues of exploitation? This Touchpoint is often regulated by governments but third party verifiers can certify that the labor is properly compensated and cared for.
3. Manufacturing: You can imagine that a manufacturing facility has many factors that should be considered. Is the plant properly managed? Does it have a plan to be green? Is it in compliance with local and national regulations?
4. Packaging: Packaging combines branding and product protection, and in some cases also includes a barrier to in-store theft as well. Companies tend to express adherence to conservation-minded materials for product packaging, but packaging design may supplant the ecological concerns for the sake of identity expression.
5. Distribution: Competition for shipping and distribution make this one of the most efficient areas of the product life cycle. LEED certifications evaluate a product's environmental efficacy from a proximity stand-point: Is the product's point of origin 60 or 6000 miles away?
6. Consumption: This is the buyer's role in the process. Your purchase decisions can be guided by energy ratings such as energy star, life expectancy, probable parts replacement, impact on the environment, and the humane and fair treatment of laborers, for example.
7. Disposal: So what do you do when you are finished using the product? Two options exist—disposal to a dead-end landfill, or routing to a reclamation process for recycling and reuse of the embedded ingredients.
8. Reclamation: This seems to be the most most perplexing part of the entire cycle, and why it remains a puzzle piece. Reclamation involves extracting all reusable material and re-purposing it as need/feed stock for new products.