What Stage Of A Product’s Life Cycle Has The Most Environmental Impact?

There are many life cycle assessments and studies out there on different products.

But, what is not as commonly discussed or emphasized is the environmental impact at each stage of the product life cycle.

Different products have different outputs and impacts at each stage.

This also means different products also have the potential to have their processes changed or improved differently at each stage as a result.

This guide looks at three examples of different products in regards to environmental impact at each stage, and potential for improvement.


Summary – Stage Of A Product’s Lifecycle With The Most Environmental Impact

Generally, products that don’t use fuel, electricity/energy, or consumables during use, have the most environmental impact during product manufacture.

An example of a product of this nature might be a T Shirt

There might be a few exceptions to this though, such as a smart phone, where ‘An iPhone X has a 79 kg CO2e total greenhouse gas emissions … 80% comes from production, 17% from customer use, 2% from transport and 1% from recycling (images.apple.com)

But, other products like cars, appliances and electrical items, or printers (that need ink and toner), might have a higher environmental impact at the product usage stage i.e. the consumption and operation stage (one example is a car where about 86% of carbon emissions happen during the combustion of petroleum based fuels during driving)

This is especially true once you take into consideration replacements (of batteries and parts), cleaning, use of electricity or fuel, and other maintenance and consumption.

Some products, especially more raw products like certain metals, may have a heavy impact at the material sourcing and fabrication stage, due to the extraction (and mining), refining and fabrication processes of ores and metals using so much energy

There can be different environmental indicators or measurables being measured in one life cycle assessment, such as CO2 emissions and global warming impact, non renewable energy use, water consumption, air pollution, water pollution, resource depletion, and so on.

Human health indicators can also be measured, as well as economic, wild life and other indicators.

Every product, company, supply chain and life cycle assessment has different variables to consider, and assumptions to make, that can change the outcome of the final environmental impact numbers.

Just one is example is the number of times a piece of clothing is assumed to be worn before being thrown out and buying new clothing

Overall, identifying stages that have the most environmental impact can be an extremely effective and efficient way to make improvements to products that lead to more eco friendly products and processes

But, all changes and improvements usually involve trade offs to consider, such as cost, efficiency, performance, aesthetics, and so on.


3 Different Product Life Cycle Examples

Car Navigation System

Car Navigation System (alpine.com)



Printers (kyoceradocumentsolutions.com)


Clothing (In Sweden)

T Shirt (smithsonianmag.com)


How The 3 Product Life Cycles Differ At Each Stage In Terms Of Environmental Impact

Car Navigation System

Life cycle assessment measures CO2 emissions at each stage.

Those results found that emissions were greatest at the ‘Use’ stage because the navigation system consumed power at this stage.

The full CO2 emission totals at each stage were:

Manufacture Of Material – 35,219 (grams of CO2 emissions)

Assembly Of Parts – 13,555

Shipment – 1,246

Use – 139,087 (110,847 came from an electrical origin, and 28,240 from a weight origin) 

Waste – 29



Life cycle assessment measures global warming-causing emissions at each stage of the product life cycle for two different Kyocera printer models.

Emissions were greatest at the ‘Material Manufacturing’ stage for both, but were followed closely by ‘Usage’


The full CO2 emission totals at each stage for the older TASKalfa 256i were:

Material Manufacturing – 291 (CO2 equivalent in kg)

Product Manufacturing – 86

Distribution – 12

Usage (electricity) – 145

Usage (consumables, like toner) – 121

Disposal – 2


The full CO2 emission totals at each stage for the newer and improved TASKalfa 2510i are:

Material Manufacturing – 276 (CO2 equivalent in kg)

Product Manufacturing – 32

Distribution – 11

Usage (electricity) – 100

Usage (consumables, like toner) – 121

Disposal – 2

(Overall 115 CO2 equivalent kg of reduction)


The emissions reduction from the first model to the second model was 115 CO2 equivalent kgs, or, a 17% total emissions reduction


Clothing (In Sweden)

Life cycle assessment measures climate impact generated by Swedes during various stages of the clothing lifecycle:

Production – 70%

Distribution – 4%

Consumer Transport (to and from the store) – 22%

Laundry – 3%

Disposal – 1%


Variables for clothing include duration of wear, features of the fibres, printing and other treatments done to the fabric, number of washes.


How There May Be Potential To Improve A Stage, Or Stages, Of Product Life Cycles

Improvements being made or made in the above examples include:

– Car Navigation System

Alpine states they are ‘working to reduce the energy consumption (through reduction of number of parts), size, and weight of our products.’


– Printers

The emissions reduction from the first model to the second model printer was 115 CO2 equivalent kgs, or, a 17% total emissions reduction.

Kyocera ‘developed [their] own unique controller technology for managing power consumption, and achieved a major reduction of 30%’


– Clothing

The number of times consumers wear a garment before throwing it out, how greatly spin dyeing can reduce water use compared to wet dyeing, or how much smaller the carbon footprint of fabric made from dissolved wood cellulose is, compared to cotton – are all important variables to decrease environmental impact of clothing (smithsonianmag.com)


These are good examples of how companies (and third parties or even consumers) can be most effective with trying to make products more environmentally friendly, by identifying the key stages with the most environmental impact or harm, and focussing on solutions to reduce or eliminate that impact.

Although, there is sometimes trade offs to consider, such as cost, efficiency, performance, aesthetics, and so on.


Other Resources On Lifecycle Assessments

What Is A Lifecycle Assessment, & How Do You Do One? (With Examples)

Why Lifecycle Assessments Are Important, But Also Have Their Limitations




1. https://www.alpine.com/e/csr/contribution/environment/environment02.html

2. https://www.kyoceradocumentsolutions.com/ecology/product/lca.html .

3. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/whats-environmental-footprint-t-shirt-180962885/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-a-lifecycle-assessment-how-do-you-do-one-with-examples/

5. https://images.apple.com/environment/pdf/products/iphone/iPhone_X_PER_sept2017.pdf

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