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CILCA 2023

Showcasing a Healthy, Growing Latin American LCA Community, and an EarthShift Global LCA on a Bioderived Cashmere and Wool Alternative

The biennial CILCA International Conference of Life Cycle Assessment in Latin America marked its 20th anniversary in Viña del Mar, Chile this July, and the large number of participants and presentations showed clearly that the Latin American LCA community is healthy and growing.

EarthShift Global senior sustainability analyst Juanita Barrera was in attendance as a presenter, discussing the results of an LCA for Spiber, Inc. (Spiber), an innovator in bioderived fibers that is developing sustainable alternatives to cashmere, merino wool, and other traditional textiles, and also shared some observations from the event.

“I was interested to see universities are starting to include LCA as mandatory classes because this is becoming a differentiator for when people graduate and look for a job,” notes Juanita. “And there was quite a bit of discussion of circularity indicators, and how those are being integrated into LCA software; it’s a sign of broader interest.”

Another sign of how the LCA community is evolving is the upcoming publication of a new handbook on Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) from a worldwide group of authors and editors. “LCSA refers to the evaluation of all environmental, social, and economic impacts and benefits in decision-making processes, and the handbook includes guidance for implementation, principles, and data. It could be quite helpful for making products sustainable throughout their life cycle,” says Juanita.

Juanita’s presentation covered a cradle-to-gate LCA that quantified and compared the relative environmental performance of Spiber’s Brewed Protein™ fibers, which use plant-derived ingredients and are manufactured from protein powder through a proprietary fermentation process. The study also aimed to identify environmental impacts of prospective production scenarios to understand environmental hotspots and help set strategies to avoid impacts.

system boundaries from Spiber LCA study

Source: Spiber, Inc.

Spiber has published a full report on the study. Findings included:

• Brewed Protein™ fiber was found to have at least 7% lower environmental impact compared to cashmere and merino wool staple fiber in most impact categories. The largest impact reductions were observed in land use and freshwater usage, where the Brewed Protein process requires about 90% less land and about 60% less freshwater usage compared to producing the same amount of animal fiber.

• In toxicity and fossil depletion categories, Brewed Protein™ has higher impact than merino wool or cashmere, the high fossil-dependency of local grid electricity, and significant toxicity impact from production of chemicals used for the manufacturing process.

• Results were sensitive to the allocation method used. When including milk as a product of goat rearing and applying a mass allocation, cashmere impacts were lower in 13 of 18 categories compared to the Brewed Protein™ fiber baseline. However, under economic allocation, cashmere has a higher impact in 14 categories, aligned with the baseline allocation.

Spiber says it intends to focus on production process improvements to increase yields relative to production inputs and use less-impactful inputs where possible. The company also plans to engage with its most impactful suppliers to understand actual supply chain practices rather than relying on assumed global average data.

“It was a great experience, reconnecting with colleagues from across Latin America and seeing how interest in LCA keeps growing,” says Juanita. “I see this trend continuing when CILCA 2025 takes place in Mexico.”