Identify Impacts


Identify key social and environmental impacts across your value chain.

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To take effective action on sustainability you need to identify where in the value chain are the greatest impacts present.

Conduct a conceptual life cycle mapping of materials

To understand sustainability impacts across the life cycle of your materials, products, or services, start with conceptual life cycle mapping. Begin by identifying your key inputs, especially those that are commonly procured or costly, and assess their potential negative impacts. Impact-related data can be sourced from subject matter experts, public sources, suppliers,1 and other external stakeholders such as regulators and policymakers, NGOs, and industry bodies or trade associations. Where possible, quantify and categorise these impacts to allow for easier comparisons and prioritisation.

To create your map, define each stage of your value chain (raw materials, processing, assembly, etc.), trace the flow of your key inputs through the chain, and connect the impact data you have collected to these inputs. This provides a holistic view of the value chain inputs, allowing you to analyse impact hotspots.

EXAMPLE: Apple develops Material Impact Profiles

Apple constructed Material Impact Profiles by cataloguing 45 common raw materials used in its products and evaluating their social, environmental, and supply impacts based on 16 indicators (see Appendix B). The materials were then assigned weighted scores, allowing Apple to focus on the ones with the highest impact and most significant consumption.2

EXAMPLE: Automotive Coalition Materials Heat Map

DRIVE Sustainability, an automotive coalition, developed an industry-level materials heat map. This tool assists companies in assessing their sustainability impacts across 37 widely used materials. Each material has a profile that includes key impacts across sourcing regions. The map also encourages sustainability discussions and aids in setting shared industry priorities.3

EXAMPLE: Walmart uses the THESIS Index to identify hotspots

Walmart uses the THESIS Index to scrutinise the sustainability performance of its products. The tool enables Walmart and its 1,800 suppliers to identify social and environmental hotspots and continuously improve across 125 product categories. It also shows suppliers how they compare to others, encouraging them to improve performance.4

Conduct a life cycle assessment on critical materials

Consider conducting a formal Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for critical materials, products, or services, particularly if you plan to make sustainability claims or if the material is linked to a high risk issue. LCAs range from basic qualitative overviews to comprehensive quantitative assessments.5 They can help pinpoint environmental and social impact hotspots. More streamlined LCAs are suitable for internal decision-making where you need to take a firm position, while a full LCA is suited for validating sustainability claims externally. When performing an LCA, ensure it covers an appropriate set of impacts to avoid developing a fragmented understanding of an issue.

You can integrate your LCA results into procurement processes by creating procurement specifications or criteria based on identified thresholds or devising a scoring system that considers environmental performance. Using these strategies can transform your LCA from a one-off project into a routine procurement tool. Make sure to also engage your marketing and communication teams to communicate the environmental performance of your products or services effectively.

EXAMPLE: Impossible Burger backs its sustainability claims with an environmental LCA

Plant-based meat substitute company, Impossible Burger, hired a third party to conduct a ISO4044 standard LCA comparing the environmental impacts of its "Impossible Burger" to a conventional beef burger. The study revealed that the plant-based burger’s impacts on water and land use, aquatic pollution, and GHG emissions, were significantly reduced across the value chain.6

Scan: A Comprehensive List of Sustainability Issues for Companies cover

Scan: A Comprehensive List of Sustainability Issues for Companies

More companies are becoming interested in understanding how environmental and social factors may impact their business and what impacts their business may have on these issues. This guide provides a comprehensive list of emerging environmental, social, and governance issues, to help you reflect on your company’s impacts and identify where to prioritise action and allocate resources.

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Life Cycle Thinking

This guide explains how life cycle thinking and mapping help you identify and better understand the potential impacts of your products and services on people and the environment. By exploring environmental and social impacts from your raw materials, through manufacturing and distribution, to customer use, and end of life, you can identify hot spots and leverage points to take action on.

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Material Impact Profiles

Apple has a complex supply chain that involves many different materials. This report provides a detailed overview of the company’s process for identifying its highest-impact raw materials.

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ISO 14044: 2006, Life cycle assessment: Requirements and guidelines

This ISO standard specifies requirements and provides guidelines for conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA). This includes defining the goal and scope of the LCA, the life cycle inventory analysis (LCI) phase, and the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA).

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Why Take a Life Cycle Approach?

This guide by the United Nations Environmental Programme introduces the life cycle approach. It will help you understand how sustainability risks and opportunities can be identified using this approach

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openLCA is an open-source life cycle assessment software that will help you find high-impact areas across the life cycle of your products or services. It supports access to nearly 100,000 sustainability data sets that can be integrated into your own assessments. The openLCA website also provides training, case studies, and access to free and commercial LCA databases provided by various institutions. There are also comprehensive tutorial videos to get you started.

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Overview of The Value-Chain Approach

This guide from One Planet Network presents a generalised methodology for understanding and improving your value chain sustainability performance. It covers a three-step framework that will help you to identify key value chain risk hotspots and opportunities.

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A Guide: Carbon Footprinting for Businesses

This introductory guide by Carbon Trust will help you measure the carbon footprint of your organisation as well as specific products.

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Addressing Scope 3: A Start Here Guide

This guide by the Embedding Project outlines the basics of Scope 3 and how to take credible action.

Identify Impacts: The section on Scope 3 Inventories (pages 22-28) provides guidance on mapping your value chain and conducting your first scope 3 inventory to understand your impacts.

Commit: The section on setting Scope 3 targets (pages 33-35) outlines how to set credible goals that support emissions reductions in your value chain.

Measure: The Data Management and Governance section (pages 28-32) offers insights on how to collect better Scope 3 information from suppliers to measure progress.