a product ending up in well-run landfill will do less environmental harm than one that is not properly disposed. How should different types of environment impacts be compared and characterized? Life cycle assessment provides no answers to these questions. The challenge is in selecting boundary conditions that make sense, clearly identifying what those boundaries are, and then communicating the results of the analysis in a sensible manner.
One striking outcome of LCA and other similar models is what they reveal about the systems being assessed. Johnson (this volume) shows how LCAs of paper (as a product) reveal the complexity of the materials and energy flows of this simple material that is also 35 distinct products. In addition, simply cataloging and revealing the volumes of releases has proved effective in prompting reductions in waste. The prime example is the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which was created in response to the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986. Under the law, companies are required merely to report their releases of waste, but even this simple step spurred actions to reduce waste and to understand the relative effects of various chemicals.
At a minimum, inventorying materials and energy flows can establish baseline information on a system's overall resource requirements, energy consumption, and emission loadings, and it can help identify opportunities for the greatest green game improvements in environmental quality. More sophisticated systems, such as Volvo's Environmental Priority Strategies System (Horkeby, this volume), can compare system inputs and outputs in assessing the environmental quality of comparable but alternative products, processes, or activities. This, in turn, helps guide the development of environmentally superior of innovations.
Most companies using some variation of life cycle assessments do so to verify claims they make in green advertising; to fend off unwanted regulatory pressures; and to identify opportunities to reduce the pollution impacts of their products and production processes.
Manufacturing today occurs though complex supplier chains. Often materials, parts, and components are made by different suppliers. At one extreme, the whole manufacturing effort is outsourced to suppliers. These "virtual manufacturers" provide the knowledge behind the innovation and then market products that are made entirely through supplier chains. All manufacturers rely to some degree on supplier chains, and their competitiveness depends on managing the supplier chain well. Technology partnerships, reuse or recycling relationships, and supplier evaluation have all been used to manage supplier chains for environmental quality.
Technology partnerships can involve a parent manufacturing company developing a technology for use by suppliers on a proprietary or fee basis. When electronics companies phased out the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons