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Scientist Story

Irene Colicchio - Sustainability Engineer

Irene Colicchio has been working within DSM  for seven  years - two years as research scientist  and five years as sustainability engineer at DSM Engineering Plastics. As the interface between RT&D and Marketing and Sales she brings the sustainability aspects of the Value Propositions (VPs) clearly into focus.
Irene Colicchio

What is your role in relation to the Life Cycle Assessment competence?

I’ve been Sustainability Engineer at DSM Engineering Plastics (DEP) since July 2010. In this position, I work at the interface between RT&D and Marketing and Sales in order to bring the sustainability aspects of our Value Propositions (VPs) clearly into focus. Life Cycle Assessment is a valuable tool to validate and quantify these proof points and, within DEP, I’m the primary LCA representative and practitioner.

What does that entail on a day-to-day basis?

Calculating the cradle-to-gate footprint that our base polymers and compounds have on the environment, and modeling the impact that our solutions have – cradle to grave or cradle to cradle – in their complete lifecycle. This highlights the environmental benefits of DSM solutions, and helps identify “hot spots” for improvement. I support colleagues in strengthening the Value Propositions of their solutions s, and answer customer polymer and compound footprint questions. I also engage with our customers to learn more about their sustainability drivers and share with them the DEP vision on sustainability.

How far can you technically go getting measurable information about product environmental footprints?

When we assess the footprint of DSM’s base polymers and compounds from cradle to “our” gate, we look at the so-called hot spots: what dominates the footprint? For which ingredient or process do we need to refine our assumptions or get more accurate data? This is an iterative process that is fed by the latest LCA methodologies and software, and increasingly better data of all kinds from suppliers and the industry. So the competence is continuously developing, and there’s still much to be learned – especially in terms of the impact assessment methods.

What is the biggest challenge in creating and stimulating LCA awareness and thinking? Although there are standards behind the way to conduct LCAs, it’s not yet an exact science – and personally, I don’t think it should be. The concepts behind sustainability should not be rocket science. LCA should simply be common practice to substantiate something that is common sense with numbers. The challenge is therefore to change the academically dominated perception of LCA to something that is more easily adopted and used by industry.

What is the next challenge in the field of LCA, and how is DSM responding to it?

LCA traditionally refers to the impact of a product or service on the environment. But you now see the concept being extended even further. The current hot topic is the need to integrate the impact of LCA factors – such as emissions – on human health. This is called social impact assessment, and the challenge is to find sound and scientifically accepted ways to quantify this. As one of the co-founders of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics, DSM is actively striving to create a harmonized and broadly accepted methodology for this.

Within the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, DSM is also co-developer of the “Life Cycle Metrics for Chemical Products” a guideline by the chemical sector to assess and report on the environmental footprint of products, based on LCA.

What excites and energizes you in your work?

The growing number of people who are becoming aware that industry can play a very important role in shaping a more sustainable society. It’s great when younger people show curiosity and interest in my job. And when I present LCA calculations to my colleagues and I see in their eyes that it makes sense to them – that look that says “I’ve got it – and I’m going to use it” – that’s motivating!