Walmart, Seventh Gen Give Free LCA Tool a Trial Run

Walmart, Seventh Gen Give Free LCA Tool a Trial Run

Image CC licensed by Flickr user maartmeester

[Editor's note: This is an updated version that reflects the addition of new pilot participants and funding information.]

Seventh Generation, Walmart and Tetra Pak are among the companies that will test-drive a new open source tool to help them weigh the environmental and social impacts of their products.

The three companies are participating in a pilot program that will trial Earthster 2 Turbo (E2T), a life cycle assessment (LCA) tool with a companion open source database. It is designed to give companies greater visibility into their supply chains in order to make smarter, more sustainable design decisions.

A total of 10 companies -- dubbed the Group of 10 -- will participate in the first pilot phase running from December through March, including Good Guide and Pre Consulting. Nonprofit New Earth will continue signing up new associate members to test E2T in the second pilot phase from late March through September. E2T is slated to hit the market in Fall 2011.

"Our mission is to make its available for free to every company in September 2011," said Mark Tulay, director of business development and communications for Earthster.

In a webcast Tuesday introducing the E2T and the pilot program, Earthster co-founder Greg Norris described the vision behind Earthster 1, which was first launched in 2008 and tested by Walmart to evaluate the sustainability attributes of private label products.

"We should use this system to understand ourselves," Norris said. "It's a mirror of self-reflection and a live feed on the sustainability impacts from each actor in the global economy."

Norris described how E2T can enable companies to first visualize their supply chains before tackling a range of questions that have historically confounded businesses: Which environmental and social impacts are most important? What are the drivers? How can they turn this information into action?

The tool highlights supply chain hot spots and gives users recommendations for improving environmental impacts. The Software-as-a-Service platform combines with the Earthster Open Commons, a wiki that expands with the addition of data from new users in order to fill in the gaps that plague some LCA databases.

"Very often, the quality of data are not what we want them to be in the databases out there," said Dave Rapaport, senior director of corporate consciousness at Seventh Generation. "There really are sparse data for supply chain."

Rapaport cited palm oil as an example of how Earthster could help the company make strategic sourcing decisions about a controversial ingredient used in its supply chain: palm oil. Palm oil is an ingredient in surfactant, a cleaning agent used in detergents and cleaners, but palm oil has been linked to deforestation and habitat loss. Impacts related to palm oil can vary depending on how the palm oil was produced or the trees were grown.

"What we want to know is how do those impacts compare to the alternatives," Rapaport said.

Seventh Generation will use Earthster to create interactive visualizations to communicate the sustainability attributes of two product lines. Tetra Pak will use E2T to evaluate sustainable packaging decisions. Climate Leaders partner Kohl's will also test E2T.

Tulay noted via email that the version of E2T used in the pilot phase will have additional customized features that may not be available in the free version. The nonprofit will need to hit revenue targets in order to roll out the free version as planned next fall.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user maartmeester.