Further theory on analysis of product properties

If we analyse product properties they may relate to:

  • Functionality, associated with the main function of the product
  • Aesthetics, design and appearance of the product
  • Image (of the product or the producer)
  • Technical quality, such as stability, durability, ease of maintenance
  • Additional services rendered during use and disposal
  • Costs related to purchase, use and disposal
  • Specific environmental properties

The primary services to the user are functionality, aesthetics, and image. Technical quality and additional services ensure the primary services during the expected duration of product use. Of the above-mentioned properties, cost related to purchase is the only property that can be put into well-defined terms. Technical quality and functionality are typically less well defined, but still quantitative. Other properties, such as aesthetics and image, cannot be measured directly, but must be described qualitatively.

Some of these properties may appear very irrational, since they are not present in the product as such – but are shaped by the perception of the buyer and can depend on differences in the purchase or use situation, or the age, sex, education, status, “culture” or attitudes of the customer. These properties can be greatly influenced by the marketing activities of the supplier. A commonplace example of this is the designs for bottles for mineral water that range from simple to very sophisticated.

The purpose of LCA is to study the environmental impacts of the products, and it is not meaningful to state in advance that the studied products should have general properties as ”environment-friendly” or ”non-toxic”. If environmental properties are included as obligatory, they need to be specific properties to enable this to be judged prior to the life cycle study. An example is the compliance with the threshold values for certain toxic compounds in building materials.

Which of the above mentioned properties that are obligatory depend on the market situation. Information on obligatory properties for a specific market segment can be obtained from:

  • the marketing departments of the enterprises supplying products to the market segment,
  • retailers,
  • industrial organisations,
  • industrial research institutions and industry consultants,
  • regulating authorities and standardisation bodies,
  • marketing and consumer research institutions.

Issues regulated in national and international legislation and standards are typically obligatory properties.

When seen together, the obligatory properties should give a good description of what is required for products to substitute for each other. However, in some situations the amount of substituted product or the interaction with other product systems may be determined by non-obligatory properties. For example, the ease of cleaning a beverage container (a non-market relevant property) may influence the amount of cleaning agent. Therefore it is necessary to analyze systematically all product properties and judge for each one whether it leads to differences in the amount of substituted product or in the interaction with other product systems. Especially when studying intermediate products, components, or products that are dependent on other products, there is a risk of choosing a too-narrow product perspective and thereby overlooking obligatory properties that are defined outside of this perspective. For instance, for the product group ”chairs” it may be relevant to investigate if other ways of providing seating support are available, or if there are external constraints because the chairs are only one component in a complete interior solution for the office.

How to cite this: 
Consequential-LCA (2015). Further theory on analysis of product properties. Last updated: 2015-10-27. www.consequential-lca.org