Exploring Lifecycle Assessment with Michele Demers

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Michele Demers - CEO of Boundless Impact Research & Analytics discusses all about LCAs


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Carbon Accounting & Management Podcast cover featuring Michele Demers discussing Lifecycle Assessment

With a unique blend of analytical expertise and passionate environmental advocacy, Michele Demers is the founder and CEO of Boundless Impact Research & Analytics. She leads her team in delivering precise, objective, actionable insights to expedite investments in sustainable technologies and eco-friendly companies. Boundless uses a science-based, data-driven methodology grounded in the proven success of lifecycle assessment and serves a growing universe of investors, companies, and funds. With 25 years of diverse experience, Michele has been instrumental in developing over two dozen startups and is celebrated for her innovative approach to environmental impact measurement. She also mentors emerging cleantech ventures through Heritage Group Accelerator and TechStars, holding a Master’s in International Relations and Communications from Boston University.

Michele Demers joins Carbon Accounting & Management Podcast to discuss:

  1. Cleaner technologies and positive environmental change
  2. Comprehensive emissions footprint understanding
  3. Techno-Economic Analysis alongside Lifecycle Assessment (LCA)
  4. Challenges and Importance of Accurate Reporting
  5. Examples of environmental key performance indicators (EKPIs)

Here is a summary of the discussion from the podcast.

Hi Michele, Thanks for joining us! Please share a bit about your work, your role, your expertise, and Boundless Impact.

I founded Boundless about eight years ago. The latest iteration of our company, which focuses on environmental research and analytics, began in 2018. Our mission is to provide objective, actionable impact analytics to accelerate investment dollars in clean technologies and companies driving positive environmental change. We achieve this through a proprietary, science-based, data-driven approach grounded in lifecycle assessment. This lifecycle assessment method, which we will be discussing today, has been around for decades and is an internationally standardized methodology.

Investors need high-quality environmental data; cleantech companies require it, too, to differentiate their products, scale effectively, secure funding, and disrupt industries. We work across various sectors, including energy, transportation, food, agriculture, advanced materials, circular economy, and water—industries currently experiencing massive disruption due to climate solutions and the climate crisis.

You touch on many areas we’re exploring today, so it will be fascinating to delve into them. You have a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Government from Penn State and a master’s in International Relations from Boston University. Your career includes work in the nonprofit sector, significant entrepreneurial experience, and involvement in the tech sector. Can you share your journey from your early career to becoming the expert you are today?

Sure. Before Boundless Impact Research & Analytics, I had a whole previous career that evolved into what I do now. I worked in international development, human rights, and philanthropy. I worked for Silicon Valley billionaires Pierre and Pam Omidyar, the founders of eBay, and helped them start a foundation. We were doing impact investing before the term was coined, around 2007-2008.

During that time, I realized that we need entirely new industries to address issues like the climate crisis. I became passionate about building new markets to solve significant problems. As I got involved, I noticed that impact measurement was ineffective. Investors like the Omidyars, who were putting significant capital at risk, deserved quality research and data from the companies they were investing in. This realization led us to focus more on impact measurement.

In 2018, we discovered the methodology of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This internationally standardized approach provides accurate environmental and techno-economic performance data. Identifying these technologies within an industry can be game changers. We developed our methodology and have conducted LCAs across hundreds of industries since then.

Our team of environmental engineers produces trustworthy scores and metrics. These are validated by external industry and scientific experts, ensuring unbiased results—all part of the Lifecycle assessment approach. Investors find our reports reliable, and companies use them to accelerate fundraising and business development, acquire customers faster. This data empowers companies and investors the ability to differentiate their products.

Many ESG and carbon accounting professionals discover their career path isn’t a direct line from starting in sustainability to ending there. Seeing how diverse experiences can lead to impactful work from various perspectives is valuable. Thank you for sharing your journey. Let’s explore lifecycle assessment. What’s the 101, starting at the very basic level? Can you explain them, their primary purpose, and how they can be used as a tool for measuring environmental impact? 

LCA, or Life Cycle Assessments, systematically evaluates the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle. This means considering inputs and outputs at each stage, including resource use, energy consumption, emissions, and waste generation.  Different industries have varying system boundaries.

For instance

  • Cradle-To-Gate covers raw material extraction to production
  • Cradle-to-Grave includes end-of-life
  • Cradle-to-Cradle involves circular reuse, keeping the product within the system continuously

Illustration depicting the lifecycle assessment process and its main components

Got it. When defining boundaries for an LCA, what factors do you consider? How do these boundaries affect the assessment’s accuracy?

It depends on the product’s development stage. Startups may not have end-of-life data, so it’s often excluded. Using technology readiness levels (TRL), early-stage companies (TRL 4-6) might only have a prototype, while more advanced companies can include broader boundaries like cradle-to-cradle. Accuracy is about selecting the best units of measure. At Boundless, we use environmental key performance indicators (EKPIs) tailored to each industry, guided by internationally standardized LCA databases like Ecoinvent.

Thank you for mentioning that resource. This podcast focuses on carbon accounting and management. Can you explain why an organization might conduct an LCA through the lens of carbon management and accounting?

 An LCA is mandatory to obtain a Carbon Credit Certification for a product with significant emissions reduction benefits. Carbon standard-setting bodies (CSSBs) require an LCA for certification. Additionally, you can’t achieve an environmental product declaration in the U.S. or Europe without an LCA, which validates that your product is environmentally sustainable.

Understood. How about for organizations not in the clean tech sector but considering their process inputs? Suppose they use standard emission factors but suspect their suppliers’ performance varies. How would an LCA assist them in understanding this?

Lifecycle assessment (LCA) is crucial because it goes beyond the familiar Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions outlined by the UN GHG Protocol.

Scope Definitions:

  • Scope 1: Direct emissions from operations.
  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchased energy (heat, hot water).
  • Scope 3: Supply chain emissions, transportation emissions, waste footprint, material sourcing.

Key Differences between LCA and Scope 1, 2, 3:

  • Scope 1, 2, 3:
    • Ensures compliance with emissions reporting.
    • Focuses on operational emissions.
  • LCA:
    • Evaluates full product footprint from upstream to downstream.
    • Includes material acquisition, distribution, storage, use, and end-of-life.
    • Reliable measurement allows apples-to-apples comparison within an industry.

Advantages of LCA:

  • Identifies hidden emissions.
  • Measures and improves emissions footprint.
  • Highlights issues in:
    • Manufacturing processes (e.g., grid usage).
    • Transportation emissions (e.g., material sourcing).

At Boundless, we also offer GHG scenario analysis, which uses LCA to analyze current emissions and build realistic reduction strategies, leading to more sustainable products and operations.

LCAs can help a company understand the emissions of their specific product and make informed decisions about manufacturing processes. This could reduce emissions, support marketing claims, and assist a supplier in reducing another organization’s carbon footprint. Are there any other economic drivers for companies considering an LCA for their products?

Yes, absolutely. At Boundless, we also conduct techno-economic analysis alongside Life Cycle Assessment. By analyzing costs and lifecycle data, we can measure metrics like carbon abatement’s marginal cost and return on investment. This helps companies reduce emissions and understand the economic implications of their environmental strategies. Integrating cost analysis, product economics, and scalability factors through techno-economic analysis connects the dots and provides a comprehensive view.

That makes sense. Evaluating processes and costs helps improve efficiency and make informed trade-off decisions. ESG often faces criticism for being solely environmental, but it’s about informed business decisions. How can a company engaging in an LCA ensure data integrity and avoid greenwashing? What best practices would you recommend for LCAs to ensure companies are heading in the right direction?

While many firms perform LCAs and do a great job, some companies attempt to conduct LCAs themselves through self-reporting. I strongly advise against this because self-reported LCAs often lead to greenwashing. Companies might choose metrics that make them look good and omit those that do not.

When a third party conducts a lifecycle assessment, they select the metrics. Additionally, not all LCA firms do this, but we do this at Boundless Impact. We hire an independent industry expert to review the data provided by the company. This ensures the company cannot manipulate its data. Often, companies do not do this intentionally, but accurate accounting of emissions and other environmental factors (such as toxicity, air pollution, water footprint, or land footprint- depending on the industry) is important. Using an independent expert to review the data ensures all factors are properly accounted for. It is very much an accounting exercise.

Do you have any examples of the boundaries you used for a particular product and the KPIs involved?

Sure. Here, I’m showing a sample of the metrics we call Environmental Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We selected these for a biopesticide company and compared them to traditional industrial pesticides. The metrics we selected in this case were:

  • Soil toxicity
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Harmful materials
  • Human toxicity
  • Ecosystem impact (including effects on pollinators like monarch butterflies and bees)
  • Aquatic toxicity (impact on aquatic wildlife)

Each industry has a unique set of environmental impact metrics. We facilitate accurate apples-to-apples comparisons by using the same metrics for every technology and company within an industry.

You mentioned that when conducting an LCA for an organization, you also compare it to their competitors to enable industry comparisons. Do you have an example?

Yes, let me show you. This is a green chemical company, and here are the metrics we selected for this industry. This example involves green ethyl acetate production, which we compared to traditional ethyl acetate. Traditional ethyl acetate, used in many household products, is typically made from fossil fuel feedstock. This company, however, uses an agricultural feedstock, which is much healthier.

We assessed the GHG footprint and benchmarked it against traditional manufacturing methods for ethyl acetate, including esterification, direct addition, and dehydrogenation. Veritas is the company we assessed, represented by the light blue bars in the bar chart.

So, again, what we’re seeing here is a comparison of the Green House Gas footprints of four different methods, helping the organization understand where they would land if they chose each method, correct?

Right. We also looked at other metrics like human toxicity and particulate matter emissions. We modeled these for competitors and showed how the process had a considerable reduction in both. My team of engineers conducts primary research to build our own industry benchmarks, ensuring the reliability of our results.

And that addresses the issue of greenwashing.

Yes, this holistic overview compares the technology to others and scores the company through relative comparisons within its industry. These insights are invaluable for investors, de-risking their investments and enabling companies to use our reports to raise funds more quickly.

For example, looking at this chart, if we see particulate matter emissions, the conventional method might have a higher impact, while the new version has a much lower impact. This lets companies quickly demonstrate to investors the clear benefits of their adjustments. Is that how you would interpret this chart?


I want to explore the idea that being scientifically rigorous involves delivering information that an organization might not want to hear. Many listeners of this podcast are consultants. More often, a consultant’s job includes delivering bad news. Do you have any strategies for effectively communicating such information to ensure it’s heard and acted upon?

Companies often expect to show reduced GHG emissions, but sometimes, our assessments reveal higher emissions, especially for new market entrants without production efficiencies. Factors like global sourcing can result in high GHG footprints. We help them model ways to reduce this, such as sourcing locally or using renewable energy grids near their manufacturing sites.

Occasionally, we must tell companies what they don’t want to hear. They may expect their sustainability story to be a home run but find the LCA results counterintuitive. We let the data speak for itself without manipulation. While this can disappoint some customers, it highlights areas needing improvement for a better sustainability footprint.

It sounds like part of it is letting the data speak for itself and part of it is partnering with them to provide solutions through techno-economic analysis, showing commercially viable ways to make improvements. It’s about delivering bad news but also offering solutions.

Right, exactly. It’s also crucial to ensure companies use proper LCA methods. Many companies attempt to conduct LCAs themselves instead of using a trained third party. This leads to data integrity issues, as some companies use industry data points inaccurately, claiming them as their product performance. While it might simplify filling out an ESG questionnaire, it risks significant inaccuracies.

That ultimately harms the industry when reporting doesn’t match what’s happening on the ground. That’s a crucial point. As we reach the end of our conversation, I like to ask some quick questions to educate our listeners. Are there any newsletters, websites, online resources, or professional organizations you would recommend?

Definitely visit our website, boundlessimpact.net, to stay informed on the latest updates in lifecycle assessment and climate impact measurement. It’s essential for companies to understand LCA and its benefits. Additionally, businesses operating in Europe should recognize that European regulations are stricter than those in the U.S. European markets require measurements of GHG emissions, air pollution, water footprint, toxicity footprint, and ocean plastics composition.

I also want to mention the GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies) model developed by Argonne National Lab, affiliated with the Department of Energy. Carbon intensity scoring began at GREET with transportation fuels and is now becoming a standard for assessing environmental performance. It’s an effective tool for understanding the emissions reduction potential of products. Following the GREET model is becoming conventional wisdom in the market.

That’s very helpful. What about conferences or events? Have you attended any you would recommend to industry professionals?

The Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Forum is one of the best cleantech conferences. It covers sustainable fuels, new biotechnologies, agricultural biotech, biorefineries, and sustainable jet fuels. I attended in October and found it incredibly content-rich and impressive. Next week, I’m attending the Slush Conference in Helsinki, Finland, the world’s biggest clean tech conference. It’s my first time there, and I’m excited about it!

That sounds fantastic. What about public data sources? Do you recommend any for building inventories and ESG reports?

You have to pay to access Eco Invent. Publicly available databases might not be very useful. You can use the EPA’s WARM (Waste Reduction Model) and the GREET model, which I previously mentioned. The WARM model calculates waste emissions. However, relying on free resources may not be as reliable as hiring a third-party assessment.

If there’s one takeaway from this conversation, what should it be?

Lifecycle assessment and environmental impact measurement are not optional; they are essential. As we move toward a carbon-priced world, companies not conducting honest emissions reporting will face negative balance sheets and stranded assets. Companies integrating renewable energy and sustainability strategies will be the stocks to invest in. Investors must view lifecycle assessment data as critical for de-risking investments. Skepticism about data is necessary, as there is widespread greenwashing. Truly impactful technologies achieve gigaton or megaton emissions reductions, not just tons or kilotons. Investors must educate themselves on setting and understanding such targets. Breakthrough Energy Ventures is one example of an organization with a focus on significant emissions reduction targets.

Where can our listeners find more about you and your organization?

Our website is boundlessimpact.net, and you can email me at mdmers@boundlessimpact.net. I’m also on LinkedIn, where we have an active page. I recommend following us there. We’re excited to conduct more LCAs for emerging products. Please follow us on our website and LinkedIn.