Life Cycle Assessments

Comparative Life Cycle Assessment

Corrugated Life Cycle Assessments

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the best way to quantify a product’s environmental impact, from raw materials to end-of-life. A credible LCA provides a snapshot and benchmark for improvement based on verified facts, collected and analyzed by impartial, qualified third-party researchers, and peer-reviewed to further ensure objective and accurate conclusions.

The corrugated industry is constantly working to improve our environmental progress. The corrugated industry released its third life cycle assessment report in June 2017 measuring and documenting the cradle-to-cradle environmental impact of corrugated packaging manufactured in 2014. The study builds on the first-ever U.S. corrugated-industry LCA, released In 2010 and its update released in 2014. A fourth life cycle assessment report will be released later this year.

Life cycle assessments allow organizations to help improve corrugated containers and the industry over time. FBA released its first corrugated life cycle assessment in 2006. Since then, FBA has released a new study every four years, and the association will soon be releasing its latest and fourth iteration toward the end of 2023.

The corrugated industry submits to periodic LCA studies performed to the highest standards, evaluating the life-cycle impacts of an average corrugated box. Over the years, these LCAs show box manufacturers are steadily replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and continually reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as other impacts.

We’re always on the lookout to make our industry more sustainable, and these life cycle assessments provide the information we need to focus on meaningful improvements and measure our progress. It shows we are driving down energy and water use, for example. One member company, Green Bay Packaging, is a net-zero water user, which goes a long way in making the corrugated manufacturing process more efficient and sustainable.

Comparative Life Cycle Assessment

The corrugated industry has completed a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) study to bring a scientifically robust and transparent environmental assessment of corrugated containers and reusable plastic containers (RPC) to the produce industry and the public.

The LCA shows neither corrugated containers nor reusable plastic containers (RPC), have an advantage in all environmental impact categories.

The LCA compares the environmental impact from extraction of raw materials to end-of-life for the two commonly-used produce container systems across eight of the highest volume produce items.  The assessment shows that the two container systems have different environmental impacts which create value-based trade-offs. To minimize the footprint of delivering products to market, grower/shippers and packers should evaluate individual commodities, transport distances and other variables rather than rely on a one system fits all perspective.

PCRs, LCAs and EPDs

Product Category Rules (PCRs), Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) tell us about the environmental costs of extracting resources and the actual cost of creating a product for use in our everyday lives. These tools give us the knowledge for steps we can take to make greener, more sustainable products.

The first PCR was developed in 2017 and established the rules for performing Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) in the industry and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). Click here for the industry's 2023 PCR.

PCRs allow for the review and comparison of different environmental product attributes among products in a defined category. PCRs help ensure that claims (boundaries, data, assumptions, uncertainty, etc.) are comparable when describing LCA results and provide instructions for how LCAs should be conducted. PCRs are also necessary to determine the rules and requirements for EPDs.

EPDs are a declaration of a product's attributes concerning different environmental parameters during the product life cycle. An EPD requires gathering quantified data for a product with categories of parameters: raw material, energy use, and waste, to name a few.

Also known as sustainable manufacturing, many companies use this strategy to increase growth and competitiveness. With an EPD, manufacturers report comparable, objective, and third-party verified data that show the good and the bad about the environmental performance of their products and services. When developing an EPD, the environmental performance is described by carrying out an LCA of the product.