What is LCM?

Life Cycle Management (LCM) includes methods and management of Life Cycle Assessment and environmental footprinting.

Life cycle thinking

The concept of Life Cycle Thinking underlies the approach used in Life Cycle Management (LCM). Starting with a consumer product such as an apple, a merino jumper or a pack of dried milk, the whole supply chain can be modelled upstream back through the retail, distribution, and agricultural production stages, and even back to production of the fertilisers and pesticides used in agricultural production. It can also be modelled downstream through transport from the retailer to the home, storage at home, use by the consumer, and final end-of-life management of the packaging and any other waste. This is called thinking along the life cycle.

Life cycle thinking contrasts with the traditional approach to environmental management which has a site- and/or organisation-specific focus. For example, a coolstore may focus on energy use and refrigerant losses associated with its own operations, and a dairy processor may concentrate on energy efficiency and waste minimisation in its operations.

Why take a life cycle approach?

There are two main reasons for adopting a life cycle perspective. One is that it enables identification of activities in the life cycle of a product associated with the greatest impacts (the “hotspots”), and thus prioritisation of actions for improvement. The second is that it enables comparison of alternative product systems delivering the same service and/or comparison of alternative improvement options.

Understanding these hotspots, and the trade-offs between alternative ways of delivering products and services, from a life cycle perspective can then stimulate ideas for creative redesign of existing product systems or development of new products. And, as a recent Harvard Business Review article, says, “smart companies now treat sustainability as innovation’s new frontier” (Nidumolu et al., 2009).

Life Cycle Assessment

Sometimes it is not always obvious where the hotspots occur in the life cycle of a product. Thus, for example, some of the early media articles on the Food Miles issue assumed that the greatest environmental impacts of products (and particularly food products) are associated with the distance travelled between the point of production and point of consumption. This was subsequently shown to be true for some products, and some types of environmental impacts, but not for others.

In such cases, an environmental management tool called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to undertake a quantitative analysis of the environmental impacts along the supply chain from extraction of raw materials, through refining and manufacturing, distribution, retailing, use and on to end-of-life management. The LCA identifies the hotspots in the life cycle of a product, such as the relative importance – or not – of transportation, and can be used to support subsequent decision-making.

Life Cycle Management (LCM)

Organisations that are interested in using Life Cycle Thinking may implement a Life Cycle Management (LCM) programme. LCM is an integrated framework of concepts, techniques and procedures to address environmental, economic, technological and social aspects of products and services using a life cycle perspective. The aim of LCM is to make life cycle thinking operational for organisations and deliver continuous improvement along the product value chain.

Typically LCM consists of three (overlapping) phases: (1) understand the life cycle issues associated with the organisation’s products, (2) define an LCM strategy and prioritise actions, and (3) implement LCM projects. More details and examples are given in McLaren and McLaren (2009).


McLaren J. and McLaren, S.J. (2009). “Life Cycle Management.” Chapter 11 in B. Frame, R. Gordon and C. Mortimer, Hatched, Landcare Research, Lincoln. Available at: http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/services/sustainablesoc/hatched/documents/hatched_section2.pdf

Nidumolu, R., Prahalad, C.K., and Rangaswami, M.R. (2009). “Why Sustainability Is Now the Key Driver of Innovation.” Harvard Business Review September 2009. Harvard Business School, Boston.