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.

4.2 Public Sector Leadership

Canada’s Opportunity: Adopting Life Cycle Approaches for Sustainable Development


Canada’s public sector has an opportunity to show leadership in the application of Life Cycle Approaches for both economic and environmental gains within its internal operations and policy decision-making process. Life Cycle Approaches provide a means through which the GoC can assess the life cycle costs of products it purchases and programs it delivers to identify the most cost-effective option and thus save money for taxpayers and improve policy outcomes. They also enhance environmental stewardship by considering environmental inputs and impacts throughout the life cycle of a product, as well as identifying trade-offs among alternatives and opportunities for improvement. The adoption of Life Cycle Approaches presents an opportunity to decrease the environmental impacts of policies while improving their economic efficiency by systematically integrating and considering economic and environmental attributes in decision making.


Life Cycle Approaches can be used to identify areas for improvement in internal operations, making this a key opportunity for savings by governments. This approach enables the identification of hot spots, inefficiencies, more favourable alternatives, or process improvements in government operations. Internal operations refer to the infrastructure, goods, services, and related processes that help governments function, including buildings, vehicle fleets, and other assets and commodities, such as information technology and other electronic and electrical equipment.

The GoC’s operational presence across the country is significant. It owns or operates more than 30,000 on-road vehicles, over 40,000 buildings owned or leased, and employs approximately 260,000 employees across Canada.116 The GoC owns approximately 25 million square metres of floor space — and leases another 6 million — in a variety of types of buildings, making it the biggest landlord in the country. Federal buildings account for a range of impacts related to GHG emissions, water use (supply and wastewater) and the building’s physical footprint. The federal fleet consists of approximately 26,000 vehicles and the GoC buys 3000–4000 vehicles each year, representing a capital investment of $120 million. Annually, the GoC procurement of goods and services is approximately $20 billion – including approximately $500 million in IT goods and services. Buildings and vehicles are notable in terms of the magnitude of expenditure and environmental impact, especially with respect to energy and fuel use.

Applying Life Cycle Approaches or strengthening their current application in these major areas of internal operations will enhance efficiencies, resulting in economic and environmental benefits. Cost savings can be incurred from process improvements and increased efficiencies, as they can be from reduced air emissions, solid waste generation, and wastewater discharges. Life Cycle Approaches are already used in the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Policy on the Management of Real Property (see text box below).117

Government of Canada real property


The use of Life Cycle Approaches in decision making allows governments to fully understand the environmental impacts of their actions and thus make decisions that result in less environmental degradation and greater economic efficiency. The systems perspective inherent in Life Cycle Approaches can improve decision making by bringing data and information, as well as different perspectives, to policy and program development. It is possible to then avoid shifting environmental impacts from one stage of the life cycle to another, or from one type of environmental impact to another by including environmental input and impact information and data.

For example, concern about the mercury content in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) prompted the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to examine this product when developing standards for mercury-containing products in 2000. During this process, Life Cycle Management (LCM) was used to better understand the true mercury emissions over the entire life cycle of a CFL in comparison with a standard incandescent light which does not contain mercury. By examining the mercury emissions throughout the entire life cycle of each type of bulb, the CCME analysis showed that incandescent bulbs resulted in more mercury emissions. This result was attributed to the use phase of the bulb: incandescent bulbs are less energy efficient than CFLs and thus require more energy during this phase, resulting in more mercury emissions.‡‡‡‡ Without the use of LCM, CFLs may have been banned. Now, the end-of-life of CFLs is managed in several jurisdictions to prevent mercury emissions at this stage and their use is encouraged. Furthermore, the use of incandescent lights is now being phased out. These policy actions would not have been taken without using a Life Cycle Approach.

The GoC already uses Life Cycle Approaches in some of its policies to guide decision making in several areas. For example, NRCan has a set of Guiding Principles for Sustainable Biofuels in Canada. Applying a Life Cycle Approach and considering broader impacts on the environment, food security and the economy are explicit in four of the nine principles.123 The application of these principles in decision making related to biofuels will help ensure that GHG emissions are calculated across the life cycle. As biofuels become an increasingly prevalent source of fuel in Canada and worldwide, decision-making tools such as these are increasingly needed to ensure that the full spectrum of environmental inputs and impacts across the life cycle are considered in framework policies and subsidy or incentive programs.

Another example of the use of Life Cycle Approaches in decision making is the GoC’s Chemicals Management Plan. Since 2006, Environment Canada and Health Canada have jointly stewarded the implementation of this plan, a federal initiative aimed at reducing the risks to Canadians and their surrounding environment from hazardous chemicals.124 The plan examines the life cycle impacts of targeted chemicals, mainly through tools such as risk assessment and risk management. LCA is also used to compare site remediation technologies and scenarios, waste management scenarios at the municipal level, and, infrastructure management scenarios.125


[††††] This figure does not include emissions from the federal inventory and only includes operations in Canada. Canadian embassies overseas, staff lodging and military bases, for instance, are not included.

[‡‡‡‡] Assuming the electricity for the use phase was from coal-fired plants.

[116] Environment Canada 2011a

[117] Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat 2006a

[118] Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat 2006b

[119] Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat 2006a

[120] Environment Canada 2010

[121] Public Works and Government Services Canada 2007

[122] Sonja Persram, Mark Lucuik, and Nils Larsson 2007

[123] Natural Resources Canada 2010

[124] Environment Canada 2011b

[125] Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur le cycle de vie des produits 2009