The product life cycle

Every step in the supply chain of a product basically consists of 4 stages, in all of which ecological, social or economical damage may be caused:

  • Supply of raw materials and services with embedded damage from the upstream supply chain.
  • The process of production, including the distribution.
  • The consumption and/or use of the product.
  • The disposal of the product.

All four of these stages may be extremely complex processes in itself involving hundreds of companies in different countries.
The subject of sustainability probably is the most difficult topic to control and verify, because it concerns the complete supply chain of all components from cradle to grave.

Most existing standards use criteria which require to investigate “back to the origin”, but do not define what this is. One farmer produces milk with cows grazing in the field, another farmer feeds his cows with soy or corn and a third uses a combination; an iron ore mining company uses iron machines; a soy farmer uses fertilizers; a necklace originates from India, but the used beads come from somewhere else. This way many life cycles are endless or even consist of endless circles.
Therefore such criteria are without any value without a proper definition of the word “origin”, the place(s) where for the standard the supply chain starts.
The Oiconomy Standard starts with introducing a definition for “origin” as that point back in the supply chain where both added weight and added value are over 80%. (The exact percentage will be determined depending on feasibility and will probably slowly rise in time, again depending on feasibility).

Also the words “disposal” and “waste”, or the end of the life cycle, regularly are poorly defined.
Many products can only be recycled using energy; some products are transported over long distances to be recycled; the recycling of products may produce other harmful materials; some materials cannot be recycled ever again; waste may be burnt either or not with energy recovery.
Therefore the Oiconomy Standard includes these issues in its criteria on measuring waste quantities.