Assessing the sustainability of products

The Natural Step’s Sustainability Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) approach helps organisations define, assess and communicate product sustainability. SLCA can be described as an assessment tool and an accompanying process that gives you a strategic overview of the full scope of social and ecological sustainability at the product level. It results in an analysis – using colours instead of numbers – that allows a company to see the major impacts of today’s product through the whole lifecycle in relation to principle requirements of sustainability. The process then helps you so to create plans for how to successfully bridge the sustainability gap.

The SLCA process and generic tools are based on the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development with its system conditions for sustainability set against the life cycle stages of a product.

On this page you will find information about:

Become an SLCA user now!

Register your interest for training opportunities so that we can alert you when the next seminar will take place. Training will give you access to SLCA tools, a method guide and useful insights into how it is best used.

Register your interest to Kristoffer Lundholm,

what the SLCA method is used for

how it works

the Ten Steps to Sustainability Life Cycle Assessment

benefits of this approach

learning opportunities and how you can get access to the tool

how to request a customised expert assessment

case studies

“The partnership developed an SLCA tool that has proved to be a powerful medium to convey the impact of products or services. This tool is now being rolled out through Carillion’s supply chain to help map out the sustainable impacts of materials and services used within Carillion.” Jas Dhami (Design Manager, Carillion)

What is it used for?

The SLCA allows for rapid yet rigorous assessment, capacity building and communication around product sustainability.

The Ten Step SLCA process identifies the major issues in relation to a product or process in a qualitative manner, allowing key aspects to be strategically explored in greater quantified detail if necessary (e.g. by LCA studies or other methods).After identifying sustainability challenges, the process helps with creative thinking about how to overcome the challenges.

By bringing together a cross-functional working group together for the assessment, the SLCA process also helps to build a shared understanding of sustainability challenges across the company, supporting the development of sustainable innovation agendas and road maps.

In other words, Strategic Life Cycle Assessment helps achieve quicker and more strategic decision-making when it comes to product innovation for sustainability.

How does it work?

The process uses an SLCA tool containing carefully directed questions underpinning each life cycle stage to help product teams identify and think innovatively about sustainability challenges. The answers result in a qualitative colour-coded matrix that communicates sustainability impacts to non-experts and benchmarks progress. The insights from the analysis allow for identifying development pathways towards full sustainability.

Click the image below to open a separate document where you can explore the structure of the questions used in the SLCA process and how it helps to identify appropriate strategies for handling various issues. (PDF, 245 kb)

The Ten Steps of the SLCA process

The SLCA process is carried out in ten steps that combine the requirements of the ISO standard for Life Cycle Assessment (ISO 1404X) with the strategic planning methodology of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.


  1. Setting goal and scope
  2. Creating a shared definition of the sustainable product system
  3. Define the system boundaries and life cycle scenario for the sustainability assessment
  4. Conduct an inventory analysis of the life cycle
  5. Sustainability assessment – Use the sustainability principles to assess sustainability strengths and weaknesses
  6. Analysis & synthesis of results – Identifying key impact areas
  7. Brainstorm possible solutions
  8. Prioritise solutions
  9. Create an innovation roadmap
  10. Measure and report progress (ongoing)

Benefits of SLCA

The SLCA has been developed with a focus on ‘designing out’ unsustainable aspects throughout the whole life cycle. This is a more strategic and systematic approach than focusing on simply identifying and minimising known negative impacts. It reduces the chance that creating a ‘solution’ in one part of the system transfers problems elsewhere or creates new ones.

  • Quicker and cheaper than a full life cycle analysis (LCA)
  • Reveals hot-spots over the complete life cycle of any product.
  • Helps product teams to think systemically about a product and provides a way to judge whether or not an innovation is truly more sustainable or not.
  • Communicates sustainability impacts to non-experts.
  • Depth of assessment can be adjusted, allowing the process to be designed to suit your budget and timeframes.
  • Underpinned by researched and well-tested methods.

The SLCA in practice

The SLCA has been used, tested and developed through our work with a number of different organisations – from speciality chemicals companies like Rohm and Haas, to consumer-oriented companies like Nike and construction companies such as Carillion. The SLCA was used to develop strategies to improve the su3stainability of paint for ICI, and won the ICI Chief Executive’s Leadership Award for Sustainability for Product Stewardship. The SLCA tool helped to identify 25 key sustainability aspects across the life cycle of paint, which helped choose the core innovation projects throughout a three year program. It has also become a filter that will be built into ICI Paints innovation stage-gate process.

“To underpin our drive for sustainable development we are using the SLCA to help us understand the issues we face in moving towards more sustainable products.” Dr Phil Taylor, Paints Research Associate.

The SLCA matrix has also been used as a structured framework to identify sustainability issues for key ingredients with the food team at Prêt A Manger. The process aimed to show areas of concern across the lifecycle and identify knowledge gaps.

“We found using the SLCA tool invaluable. It was an easy to use and informative method by which to determine the sustainability pitfalls along the food supply chain. It has helped clarify provenance issues, as well as making the decision making much more informed – a great tool.” Nicki Fisher, Sustainability Manager, Prêt A Manger

You can read more in the case studies indicated below.

Get access

  1. Request an SLCA process from our experienced facilitators

We have facilitators experienced in the SLCA process in our teams around the world. Contact your local office or make contact with Richard Blume at The Natural Step (Stockholm) to learn more.

  1. Get training – Sign up for an SLCA seminar

From time to time we run seminars and online webinars aimed at introducing the methods of SLCA, the associated tools and useful tips and tricks based on our experiences. Attending such trainings gives access to a SLCA process guide, generic SLCA tools to help with the assessment, and the right to use these freely within your or your client’s operations. Contact us to express your interest – we will keep you posted of upcoming events and will schedule new ones based on interest.

  1. Carry through an SLCA process yourself and request a third party review

If you are familiar with the FSSD and LCA-methodology, you may wish to carry out your own assessment process and screen your product’s life cycle against the four sustainability principles. If so, you may also be interested in having us review and comment on your work. Please contact Richard Blume if you are interested in this option.

Case studies