State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

M.S. Students Develop Communication Platform for Sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment

Nick Turchak
M.S. in Sustainability Management student Nick Turchak

Prior to completing the M.S. in Sustainability Management program in spring 2013, MSSM alum Nick Turchak and current MSSM student Sally Paridis developed a corporate communication platform for sustainability and life cycle assessment (LCA) data as part of their independent project. Both students drew on skills learned from the Industrial Ecology course, taught by adjunct Professor Christoph Meinrenken, that focuses primarily on the scientific methodology behind conducting an LCA.

Paridis and Turchak set out to assist environmental and operations managers in identifying efficiency and impact reduction opportunities in a system that can store, explore, and communicate LCA data of product portfolios. To date, isolated product LCAs have not sufficiently informed business strategy nor been integrated into company-wide sustainability initiatives, largely because it can take up to 100 man-hours to complete an assessment for a product.

The communication platform offers a place for companies to house their sustainability data in an organized and accessible way: it stores LCA data and offers advanced data visualizations that effectively communicate the outcomes of LCA findings. During research conducted in a previous Industrial Ecology class the team realized that LCAs and their results were usually completed in isolation from financial metrics. By tying a financial metric to each LCA stage (e.g. manufacturing, transportation, end of life) both environmental and financial outcomes could be viewed in tandem, immediately exposing corresponding inefficiencies and opportunities.

Low Carbon Australia, Ltd [LCAL], a public-private partnership set up by Australian federal Government, became the client of the study when they saw the potential for exploring an LCA communication and submission platform to inform further development of their Carbon Neutral Program. The Carbon Neutral Program considers LCAs of products as well as enterprises and events.  The team also explored options of expanding the platform to cater for these additional areas and developed modules for tracking and monitoring disclosures to reporting bodies and carbon offset purchases. These modules benefit both the regulatory body and the corporation participating in the Program by making the collection, association and sharing of this information less cumbersome and time consuming. A detailed information architecture that allows capturing various connections between product and LCA-related information was developed to support the conceptual application features. This architecture can also be used to allow the tool to feed the company product LCA data into a larger LCA submission platform for the Carbon Neutral Program.

Despite a sudden governmental re-organization that made LCAL unable to remain as a client for the project, Paridis and Turchak were able to continue their work and eventually submitted their findings to the newly formed Clean Energy Finance Commission that took over the responsibilities of LCAL.

LCA reporting is becoming more common in Australia since the introduction of a regulated carbon market and is starting to penetrate the largest multi-national corporations as well. The layout of the communication platform leverages the ease-of-use inspired by social networking and is designed to simplify relaying complex information. A unified LCA communications platform should help account for year-to-year product emissions and provide useful templates for emissions management and public disclosure statements. This communication platform is designed to minimize data entry time and provide maximum report generation capabilities, allowing the data to be produced in a number of ways to meet multiple reporting demands.

Sally Paridis was drawn to the Sustainability Management program after working with Advance and setting up a “Green Network” for expatriate Australians to cross-pollinate and share ideas.  Her work during the Masters program, has led to the foundation of a start-up called CoClear, which will generate product and portfolio analytics to store and explore enterprise sustainability data of product portfolios. She has approached Ben and Jerry’s, a company with a proven track record and commitment to sustainability practices, and invited them to become CoClear’s pilot client.  During the course of the pilot project CoClear will analyze 20 Ben and Jerry’s products and produce LCA findings for the company as well as run scenarios for them to consider various outcomes.

Nick Turchak joined the program after holding engineering and product roles in several online media start-up companies. Turchak is helping several sustainability and cleantech enterprises and continues as the Chief Technology Officer in CoClear.

View the full findings of Sally and Nick’s independent project.

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