Modelling the economic and environmental performance of engineering products: a materials selection case study

  • Carla L. Simões
  • Lígia M. Costa Pinto
  • C. A. Bernardo



Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies allow understanding all relevant processes and environmental impacts involved in the life cycle of products. However, in order to fully assess their sustainability, these studies should be complemented by economic (LCC) and societal analyses. In this context, the present work aims at assessing all costs (internal and external) and the environmental performance associated to the full life cycle of specific engineering products. These products are lighting columns for roadway illumination made with three different materials: a glass fibre reinforced polymer composite, steel and aluminium.


The LCA/LCC integrated methodology used was based in a “cradle-to-grave” assessment which considers the raw materials production, manufacture, on-site installation, use and maintenance, dismantlement and end-of-life (EoL) of the lighting columns. The fossil fuels environmental impact category was selected as the key environmental impact indicator to perform the integrated environmental and cost analysis.


The potential total costs obtained for the full life cycle of the lighting columns demonstrated that the one made in steel performs globally worse than those made in composite or aluminium. Although the three systems present very similar internal costs, the steel column has higher external costs in the use phase that contribute for its higher total cost. This column has very high costs associated to safety features, since it constitutes a significant risk to the life of individuals. The raw material and column production stages are the main contributors for the total internal life cycle costs. The EoL treatment is a revenue source in all systems because it generates energy (in the case of the composite incineration) or materials (in the case of metal recycling). The composite and aluminium lighting columns present similar “cradle-to-grave” life cycle total cost. However, until the dismantlement phase, the aluminium column presents the highest environmental impact, whereas in the EoL treatment phase this scenario is reversed. The “cradle-to-grave” life cycle potential total cost and the environmental impact (fossil fuels) indicator of the steel lighting column are higher than those of the other columns.


Even though the uncertainties in the LCC are larger if external costs are included, their consideration when modelling the economic performance of engineering products increases the probability of developing a more sustainable solution from a societal perspective.


Composite materials Environmental costs Externalities Life cycle assessment Life cycle costing Lighting columns Metals Societal costs 



Carla L. Simões wishes to thank the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology for a personal research grant (SFRH/BD/60852/2009). The authors acknowledge the support of Dr. Ferrie van Hattum and Dr. Pedro Nunes of the Institute for Polymers and Composites (IPC) throughout the various phases of the present study, as well as the information provided by the firms Lightweight Structures B.V. and Kaal Masten B.V. The financial support of IPC through project PEst-C/CTM/LA0025/2011 (Strategic Project—LA 25-2011-2012) is also acknowledged.


  1. Alonso JC, Dose J, Fleischer G, Geraghty K, Greif A, Rodrigo J et al (2006) Electrical and electronic components in the automotive sector: economic and environmental assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 12:328–335Google Scholar
  2. Aluminium Lighting Company (2011) Accessed 12 May 2011
  3. Alves C, Ferrão PMC, Freitas M, Silva AJ, Luz SM, Alves DE (2009) Sustainable design procedure: the role of composite materials to combine mechanical and environmental features for agricultural machines. Mater Des 30(10):4060–4068CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aravossis KG, Karydis V (2004) Combination of monetary valuation techniques and application to environmental impact receptors. Fresenius Environ Bull Parlar Sci Publ 13(3):283–288Google Scholar
  5. Bickel P, Friedrich R (2005) ExternE: externalities of energy, methodology 2005 update. European Communities, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  6. Bovea MD, Vidal R (2004) Increasing product value by integrating environmental impact, costs and customer valuation. Resour Conserv Recycl 41(2):133–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlsson F, Daruvala D, Jaldell H (2010) Value of statistical life and cause of accident: a choice experiment. Risk Anal 30(6):975–986CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Castella PS, Blanc I, Ferrer MG, Ecabert B, Wakeman M, Manson J-A et al (2009) Integrating life cycle costs and environmental impacts of composite rail car-bodies for a Korean train. Int J Life Cycle Assess 14(5):429–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ciroth A (2009) Cost data quality considerations for eco-efficiency measures. Ecological Econ 68(6):1583–1590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ciroth A, Huppes G, Klöpffer W, Rüdenauer I, Steen B, Swarr T (2008) Environmental life cycle costing, 1st edn. CRC, PensacolaGoogle Scholar
  11. Cole RJ, Sterner E (2000) Reconciling theory and practice of life-cycle costing. Build Res Inf 28(5–6):368–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. EPL Composite Solutions (2010) Lighting columns and sign posts. Accessed 23 Apr 2010
  13. EN 12767 (2007) Passive safety of support structures for road equipment. Requirements, classification and test methodsGoogle Scholar
  14. EN 40-2 (2004) Lighting columns—part 2: general requirements and dimensionsGoogle Scholar
  15. Europoles GmbH & Co. KG (2010) Fibre glass reinforced lighting poles—for greater traffic safety. Accessed 3 May 2010
  16. Ferrão PMC (2009) Ecologia industrial: Princípios e ferramentas. IST, LisbonGoogle Scholar
  17. Finnveden G, Hauschild MZ, Ekvall T, Guinée J, Heijungs R, Hellweg S et al (2009) Recent developments in life cycle assessment. J Environ Manag 91(1):1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Friedrich R, Rabl A, Spadaro J (2001) Quantifying the costs of air pollution: the ExternE project of the EC. Pollution Atmosphérique vol. Special bilingual issue, Combien vaut l’air propre—how much is clean air worth, pp 77–104Google Scholar
  19. Goedkoop M, Spriensma R (2001) The Eco-indicator 99: a damage oriented method for life cycle assessment—methodology report, 3rd edn. PRé Consultants, AmersfoortGoogle Scholar
  20. Great Britain Treasury (2003) The green book: appraisal and evaluation in central government. Stationery Office Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  21. Hochschorner E, Noring M (2011) Practitioners’ use of life cycle costing with environmental costs—a Swedish study. Int J Life Cycle Assess 16(9):897–902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hunkeler D (2006) Societal LCA methodology and case study. Int J Life Cycle Assess 11:371–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hunkeler D, Rebitzer G (2003) Life cycle costing—paving the road to sustainable development? Int J Life Cycle Assess 8(2):109–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Huo L, Saito K (2009) Multidimensional life cycle assessment on various moulded pulp production systems. Packag Technol Sci 22(5):261–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. International Organization for Standardization (2006) ISO 14040: 2006—environmental management—life cycle assessment—principles and framework. ISO 14000 International Standards Compendium, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  26. International Organization for Standardization (2006) ISO 14044: 2006—environmental management—life cycle assessment—requirements and guidelines. ISO 14000 International Standards Compendium, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  27. Kara S, Manmek S, Kaebernick H (2007) An integrated methodology to estimate the external environmental costs of products. CIRP Ann Manuf Technol 56(1):9–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Keoleian GA, Kendall AM, Lepech MD, Li VC (2006) Guiding the design and application of new materials for enhancing sustainability performance: framework and infrastructures application. Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings 895Google Scholar
  29. Kicherer A, Schaltegger S, Tschochohei H, Pozo BF (2007) Eco-efficiency: combining life cycle assessment and life cycle costs via normalization. Int J Life Cycle Assess 12:537–543Google Scholar
  30. Klöpffer W (2003) Life-cycle based methods for sustainable product development. Int J Life Cycle Assess 8(3):157–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Klöpffer W (2008) Life cycle sustainability assessment of products. Int J Life Cycle Assess 13:89–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Klöpffer W, Ciroth A (2011) Is LCC relevant in a sustainability assessment? Int J Life Cycle Assess 16:99–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lightweight Structures B.V. (2008) Internal communication. Lightweight Structures, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  34. Lightweight Structures B.V. (2010) Internal communication. Lightweight Structures, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  35. Meyer B, Viscusi WK, Durbin D (1995) Workers’ compensation and injury duration: evidence from a natural experiment. Am Econ Rev 85(3):322–340Google Scholar
  36. National Composite Network (2010) Roadside safety columns and crash barriers. Accessed 7 Apr 2010
  37. Passive Safety UK (2010) Designing safer roadsides. Accessed 27 Apr 2010
  38. Peças P, Ribeiro I, Folgado R, Henriques E (2009) A life cycle engineering model for technology selection: a case study on plastic injection moulds for low production volumes. J Clean Prod 17(9):846–856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Point Carbon (2011) Globally carbon markets gain one percent in value from 2009 to 2010. Accessed 29 Mar 2011
  40. Rebitzer G, Hunkeler D (2003) Life cycle costing in LCM: ambitions, opportunities, and limitations. Int J Life Cycle Assess 8(5):253–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rebitzer G, Hunkeler D, Jolliep O (2003) LCC—the economic pillar of sustainability: methodology and application to wastewater treatment. Environ Prog 22(4):241–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ribeiro I, Peças P, Silva A, Henriques E (2008) Life cycle engineering methodology applied to material selection, a fender case study. J Clean Prod 16(17):1887–1899CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Roes AL, Marsili E, Nieuwlaar E, Patel MK (2007) Environmental and cost assessment of a polypropylene nanocomposite. J Polym Environ 15(3):212–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rüdenauer I, Gensch CO, Grießhammer R, Bunke D (2005) Integrated environmental and economic assessment of products and processes. J Ind Ecol 9(4):105–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Simões CL, Pinto LMC, Bernardo CA (2012) Modelling the environmental performance of composite products: benchmark with traditional materials. Mater and Des 39:121–130Google Scholar
  46. Simões CL, Xará SM, Bernardo CA (2011) Influence of the impact assessment method on the conclusions of a LCA study: application to the case of a part made with virgin and recycled HDPE. Waste Manag Res 29(10):1018–1026CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Song YS, Youn JR, Gutowski TG (2009) Life cycle energy analysis of fiber-reinforced composites. Composites Part A: Appl Sci Manuf 40(8):1257–1265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Swarr TE, Hunkeler D, Klöpffer W, Pesonen H-L, Ciroth A, Brent A, Pagan R (2011) Environmental life cycle costing: a code of practice. SETAC, PensacolaGoogle Scholar
  49. U.S. Census Bureau (2009) 2009 annual survey of manufactures. Accessed 3 Jun 2011
  50. Viscusi WK (1993) The value of risks to life and health. J Econ Literature 31(4):1912–1946Google Scholar
  51. Viscusi WK, Aldy JE (2003) The value of a statistical life: a critical review of market estimates throughout the world. J Risk Uncertainty 27(1):5–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Viscusi WK, Magat WA, Huber J (1987) An investigation of the rationality of consumer valuations of multiple health risks. RAND J Econ 18(4):465–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wanvik PO (2009a) Effects of road lighting: an analysis based on Dutch accident statistics 1987–2006. Accident Anal Prev 41(1):123–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wanvik PO (2009b) Effects of road lighting on motorways. Traffic Inj Prev 10(3):279–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Watkiss P, Holland M (2000) Benefits table database: estimates of the marginal external costs of air pollution in Europe. BeTa Version E1.02a. Created for European Commission DG Environment by netcenGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carla L. Simões
    • 1
  • Lígia M. Costa Pinto
    • 2
  • C. A. Bernardo
    • 1
  1. 1.IPC—Institute for Polymers and Composites/I3NUniversity of MinhoGuimarãesPortugal
  2. 2.NIMA, Department of EconomicsUniversity of MinhoBragaPortugal

Personalised recommendations