Our process helps Canada achieve sustainable development solutions that integrate environmental and economic considerations to ensure the lasting prosperity and well-being of our nation.


We rigorously research and conduct high quality analysis on issues of sustainable development. Our thinking is original and thought provoking.


We convene opinion leaders and experts from across Canada around our table to share their knowledge and diverse perspectives. We stimulate debate and integrate polarities. We create a context for possibilities to emerge.


We generate ideas and provide realistic solutions to advise governments, Parliament and Canadians. We proceed with resolve and optimism to bring Canada’s economy and environment closer together.

3.3 Domestic Use of Life Cycle Approaches




The Government of Canada (GoC) had a robust and active program to develop life cycle data and promote LCT in the 1990s. This program arose in response to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment’s (CCME) National Packaging Protocol, which required industry and government to work together to reduce packaging waste going to landfill.47 In trying to solve this problem, policy makers use the tools available to them at that time to reduce the impacts of products on the environment; hence, they developed data on materials and focused on DfE and LCA.

In the last decade, Canada has not actively pursued the development and implementation of policies and programs based on Life Cycle Approaches in a coordinated manner nor to the same extent of leading countries. Canada needs to keep pace with this global trend. Few current federal initiatives clearly state that they use a Life Cycle Approach. Within the GoC, there is no framework that guides decision makers in incorporating Life Cycle Approaches into policy, program design or communications. The result is a catch-all of diverse activities that includes some elements of Life Cycle Approaches but does not reflect “true” Life Cycle Approaches that involve the entire life cycle of a product or service or consider multiple environmental effects. Examples of some of the most relevant initiatives are described in the following section and summarized in Table 2. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all Life Cycle Approachrelated activities in the federal government.

In the last decade, Canada has not actively pursued the development and implementation of policies and programs based on Life Cycle Approaches in a coordinated manner nor to the same extent of leading countries.


table 2

Environment Canada (EC) had some strong activity related to Life Cycle Approaches from the late-1980s to the mid-1990s. Examples of previous federal efforts include creating an LCI database (the Canadian Raw Materials Database), promoting and providing guidance on the adoption of Life Cycle Management (LCM) in the private sector, contributing to projects related to Life Cycle Approaches with international organizations such as UNEP and ISO, and developing tools for industry and consumers such as the EcoLogo environmental label. The Canadian Raw Materials Database was meant to provide Canadian LCI data for Canadian companies to support their voluntary efforts to improve their products’ environmental performance.48 Developed in the late 1990s and made publicly available in 2001, the database contained free LCI cradle-to-gate (i.e., from resource extraction to factory gate) data for basic materials (e.g., steel, aluminum, plastics, glass, paper and lumber) that was provided by industry associations and contractors. The database is housed at the University of Waterloo, but the data is no longer current and thus not usable.49

In 1997, under its mandate to provide pollution prevention guidance to the private sector, EC published Environmental Life Cycle Management: A Guide for Better Business Decisions. This guidance was designed to help the private sector adapt and respond to pressures in their environment in order to stay in business and remain profitable. According to EC, “Life Cycle Management (LCM) is about minimizing environmental burdens throughout the life cycle of a product or service. The life cycle includes all activities that go into making, using and disposing of a product. Adopting a life cycle perspective helps ensure that a company’s choices are environmentally sound. Companies implementing life cycle management may also benefit from competitive advantages, including cost reductions and enhanced public image.” 50

In 1988, EC also started the Environmental Choice Program which certified products based on life cycle criteria under the EcoLogo environmental label (ISO Type 1 ecolabel). Management of the label has since changed and is now implemented by Terra- Choice (owned by Underwriters Laboratories (UL)), a global independent safety science company. The program currently covers over 120 product categories and more than 7,000 certified products.51 Multiple attributes (e.g., energy use, water use, toxic chemicals, carbon emissions, recyclability) of a product across its life cycle are considered in the program.

As part of its Product Design and Development program, Industry Canada partnered with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) and the Design Exchange (DX) to review the use of DfE in Canadian industries. In 2009, the findings were summarized in a report, Design for Environment: Innovating to Compete.52 The report identified the trends and benefits related to the use of DfE, in order to help Canadian businesses become more economically competitive domestically and internationally. 53 The main benefits of using DfE are access to international markets, increased sales and product differentiation. Businesses also use DfE to comply with regulations and to respond to consumer demand for greener products. However, SMEs face barriers to DfE uptake including financial cost, lack of expertise and lack of knowledge of benefits.54

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has focused primarily on GHG emissions through the development of a tool called GHGenius, a model that focuses on the LCA (from raw material acquisition to end use) of current and future fuels for transportation applications. The tool identifies the amount of GHGs generated by a wide variety of conventional and alternative fuels and technologies, the amount of energy used and provided, and the cost effectiveness of the entire life cycle. LCA data for this tool is collected from GoC departments (e.g., Statistics Canada, NRCan, EC), the National Energy Board and industry associations. The tool is capable of assessing the cost-effectiveness of different strategies taking into consideration the LCA and fuel and vehicle costs. This enables a comparison of vehicle-related GHG reduction strategies with fuel strategies.55

Since 2007, NRCan has participated in UNEP’s International Resource Panel. The panel provides information to decision makers on the sustainable use of natural resources through consideration of their environmental impacts over the full life cycle.56 NRCan has contributed directly to some of the panel’s work, including issues related to the recycling rates of metals. Further, in collaboration with several departments such as EC, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), NRCan also develops the GoC’s input and direction to the panel’s broader work and research. This includes work on decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth, the environmental impacts of products and materials, assessing biofuels, global metals flows and water efficiency.57

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS), released in October 2010, includes several references to Life Cycle Approaches.58 First, that LCT and EPR should be used to reduce the impact and production of hazardous wastes on the environment and human health.§§ Second, that Life Cycle Approaches, including LCA, should be used in accommodation and building management to reach a level of high environmental performance (e.g., Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – LEED – certification).

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is responsible for implementing the Government of Canada’s Green Procurement Policy, which was established in 2006. The policy seeks to demonstrate environmental leadership and stimulate innovation among Canadian businesses to make environmentally preferred goods and services more broadly available. It does so by considering the environmental aspects and potential impacts and costs associated with the life cycle of goods and services being acquired. Green procurement is now embedded as a key factor in commodity management activities worth over $5 billion in Canada.59

The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) is responsible for the Policy on the Management of Real Property, which includes references to Life Cycle Approaches (see text box in Chapter 4 for more details).60

The National Research Council (NRC) has been working on LCA as part of a national Flagship Program on Industrial Biomaterials. The program is targeting the value chain from seed to polymer and composite product.61 LCA is being used to help inform the industry on ways it can decrease the environmental impact of products that are being developed. This work is being carried out by the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) team at the NRC.62


A number of initiatives related to Life Cycle Approaches are taking place in provinces and territories, with Québec leading the way. Many of these initiatives relate to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), as well as the measurement and reduction of GHG emissions. This section describes some of these initiatives, but it is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

The Government of Québec is leading the provinces and territories in promoting Life Cycle Approaches. Bill 118, the Sustainable Development Act, requires that departmental sustainable development strategies address the life cycle of products or services through the development of tools or models.63 The Government of Québec is also developing a carbon footprint program, called Empreinte Carbone Québec, that seeks to quantify and disclose the GHG emissions of products in the Québec marketplace. It is also funding the development of a LCI database (see text box below).64

Quebec's Carbon Footprint Program

The focus of most provincial and territorial initiatives related to Life Cycle Approaches has been on extending the responsibility of a product’s producer to include the disposal of the product and its packaging (known as Extended Producer Responsibility [EPR]).

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) released the Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility in 2009.72 This plan aims to increase the use and consistency of EPR programs across the country, and initially targets a number of priority products (e.g., packaging, automotive products, electronics, etc.).

Individual provinces and territories will implement the plan through the creation of their own tailored EPR programs. In 2009, the CCME also released a Canada-wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging.73 This strategy is part of the larger plan for EPR and was created to address the significant contribution of packaging to the Canadian waste stream. The purpose of this strategy is to increase the consistency of packaging-focused EPR programs across the country, as well as to support the use of more sustainable packaging by all related actors.

Other provincial and territorial initiatives related to Life Cycle Approaches focus mainly on GHG emission reductions through the use of LCA. For example, the Alberta Energy Research Institute’s (AERI [now part of Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions]) Life Cycle Analysis Initiative used LCA to evaluate GHG emissions of various forms of oil production. As part of this research, a comparison was done of North American and imported crudes against the backdrop of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) and potential impacts on the Canadian oil sector.74

The Manitoba government is using LCA to help determine how and where it can improve energy efficiency in agriculture and in doing so, reduce GHG emissions. The Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) examined crop and livestock production in the province and performed an LCA of conventional-till and zero-till wheat production. Also included in the assessment were the environmental impacts of inputs to farm production such as seed, fertilizer, fuel and pesticides. A number of farm operations were also examined, such as grain drying, grain hauling, pesticide application and harvesting. As the assessment focused on the farm scale, it ended at the farm gate.75

In Alberta, the provincial government led an initiative to conduct LCAs of various commodities from the agriculture sector (potatoes, chicken, eggs and canola). The project, called Emerging Environmental Market Opportunities – Environmental Footprinting Opportunities in Agriculture, was initiated by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. Funding for this Canada-Alberta cost-shared project was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Flexibility Fund.76

The Climate Action Toolkit is a product of a threeway partnership between British Columbia, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and a program of the Fraser Basin Council – the Smart Planning for Communities. Designed to help B.C. communities reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement their Climate Action Charter, the toolkit includes guidance on how LCA can be used to help communities and their governments meet their climate change targets. The toolkit outlines general information on how to apply LCA to estimate the environmental costs of projects.77


Industry is leading the use of Life Cycle Approaches in Canada. As previously mentioned, the use of Life Cycle Approaches confer a number of benefits, such as lower production costs through increased efficiencies and decreased material costs, as well as enhanced company and product images resulting in improved competitiveness. Larger companies are the driving force as they have the monetary and human resources required to develop and implement Life Cycle Approaches. SMEs are less likely to use Life Cycle Approaches as they face challenges that are due to cost, capacity, and a lack of knowledge about the benefits.78

Canadian Tire Sustainability and Life Cycle Approaches

Retailers such as Canadian Tire and RONA, are using Life Cycle Approaches in their business operations. Canadian Tire uses Life Cycle Approaches in a number of ways, including as the foundation of its business sustainability strategy. Life Cycle Approaches are also used to identify areas in the value chain where cost savings can be incurred. For example, Canadian Tire has reduced packaging for some of its products resulting in reduced transportation costs as well as reduced use of raw materials. The company has also redesigned products to make them more compact, which also reduces transportation and raw material costs.80 The text box below provides further details about Canadian Tire’s initiatives related to Life Cycle Approaches, which include the use of Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA).

RONA has a comprehensive LCA platform for which it has received recognition from government and NGOs (e.g., Greenpeace). It uses this tool to identify and select low-impact products that are sold in its stores. These products are identified to the consumer through inclusion in the RONA ECO and Ecoresponsible product lines. RONA also encourages its suppliers to adopt LCA in their operations.82

Natural resource-based companies are also using Life Cycle Approaches. For example, Shell uses LCA to assess GHG emissions and related impacts in the production of its fuels. This information can then be used for a number of purposes, including to evaluate environmental impacts of new products, as well as to benchmark existing assets to prioritize investments.83 The forestry sector has also been using Life Cycle Approaches to investigate the broader environmental impacts of wood products, primarily in the building and construction industry (see case study on FPInnovations in section 4.2.2).

The construction sector in Canada is advanced in the use of Life Cycle Approaches. The Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, whose purpose is to promote the use of LCA in this sector, has played a role in this advancement. There is an effort to incorporate LCA into green building certification and rating systems, such as LEED and Green Globes.84 LCA is also used by companies in the building and construction sector to differentiate their products based on environmental performance (see Green Guide case study below).

The Green Guide to Specification-Life Cycle Assessment of Building Materials

Many companies are creating their own life cycle policies and requirements based on Life Cycle Approaches, which their suppliers will be expected to meet. For example, Walmart Canada, a large, private-sector retailer, has made significant efforts in the past few years to reduce its environmental footprint—and those of its supply chains—by embracing Life Cycle Approaches to corporate sustainability. Through its work with the Sustainability Consortium, Walmart will seek to collect information on the life cycles of the products it sells. These voluntary Life Cycle Approaches have significantly decreased Walmart Canada’s environmental impact and have provided leadership and momentum for its peers to pursue similar sustainable initiatives.

Businesses are also forming partnerships with one or more of the dozens of academic researchers in the life cycle field to help translate theory into practice. For example, RONA works with the International Chair in LCA at the École Polytechnique de Montréal to develop product selection criteria based on LCA for its ECO product line. RONA then uses the criteria to select products with the lowest impact for inclusion in its ECO product line.88 The Chair was formed in 2007 with the mission “to deliver an integrated research program that increases basic knowledge and develops the generic life cycle tools needed to implement sustainable development in our partners’ respective sectors.” 89 There are currently 12 industrial partners in the Chair, including RONA, Rio Tinto Alcan, Bell Canada, Johnson & Johnson and Hydro Québec.90



Many businesses, organizations and governments across the world are using Life Cycle Approaches. Globally, Europe is leading the way in the adoption of these approaches at both the public and private sector levels. The private sector is leading the way in adopting Life Cycle Approaches in Canada. Nevertheless, there are examples of the federal and provincial governments developing and applying Life Cycle Approaches. But these are episodic, underlining the importance of being guided by an overall vision or framework for the adoption of Life Cycle Approaches. Progress to date, while ad hoc, demonstrates the value of Life Cycle Approaches in Canada as a method to integrate environmental and economic values and needs.

[‡‡] Publication in partnership with Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and the Design Exchange

[§§] In the implementation strategies for Theme I: Addressing Climate Change and Air Quality, the FSDS states: “Apply life-cycle thinking, sustainable materials management and environmentally sound management of wastes principles to promote sustainable consumption and minimize the impacts of products and wastes on the environment and human health,” and “Work with provincial and territorial authorities to promote waste minimization and diversion, such as the implementation of the Canada-wide Action Plan on Extended Producer Responsibility” (Environment Canada 2010).

[***] The probability of economic loss associated with a cost on carbon dioxide in a carbon-constrained economy.

[47] Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment 1990

[48] Canadian Raw Materials Database 2002

[49] Athena Sustainable Materials Institute 2010

[50] Environment Canada 1997

[51] EcoLogo Program ND

[52] Industry Canada, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and Design Exchange 2009

[53] Industry Canada 2011a

[54] Industry Canada, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and Design Exchange 2009

[55] S&T Squared Consultants Inc. 2004

[56] United Nations Environment Programme NDb

[57] International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management Secretariat 2009

[58] Environment Canada 2010

[59] Public Works and Government Services Canada 2009

[60] Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat 2006a

[61] National Research Council Canada 2011

[62] National Research Council Canada 2010

[63] National Assembly 2006

[64] Project Pilote Empreinte Carbone Québec NDa

[65] Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products Processes and Services 2012a

[66] Ministère du Développement durable de l’Environnement et des Parcs 2009

[67] Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products Processes and Services 2012a

[68] Project Pilote Empreinte Carbone Québec NDb

[69] Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products Processes and Services ND

[70] ICF Marbek 2011

[71] Lesage et al. 2011

[72] Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment 2009a

[73] Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment 2009b

[74] Jacobs Consultancy 2009

[75] Manitoba Agriculture ND

[76] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2011

[77] Province of British Columbia, The Union of British Columbia Municipalities, and The Fraser Basin Council 2012

[78] Udo de Haes and van Rooijen 2005

[79] Elm 2011

[80] Elm 2011

[81] Elm 2011

[82] RONA 2010

[83] Stephenson 2011

[84] Athena Sustainable Materials Institute 2010


[86] BRE Global ND

[87] Meil 2012

[88] RONA ND

[89] International Chair in Life Cycle Assessment NDa

[90] International Chair in Life Cycle Assessment NDb