Creation of an international industrial chair in life cycle assessment

May 08, 2007

Alcan, Bell Canada, Cascades, Le Mouvement des Caisses Desjardins, Hydro-Québec, Johnson and Johnson, Arcelor-Mittal, Électricité de France / Gaz de France, Total and Veolia Environnement join with the Ecole Polytechnique of Montreal to reduce their ecological footprint.

The official launch of the International Industrial Chair in Life Cycle Assessment Methodology, a research unit of École Polytechnique's Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG), Canada's leading research centre in the field, will take place today, May 8th.

The initial budget for chairholders, Professors Réjean Samson and Louise Deschênes of the Chemical Engineering Department of École Polytechnique de Montréal, totals $4.5 million over five years. Funding will be provided by industrial and financial partners such as Alcan, Bell Canada, Cascades, le Mouvement des caisses Desjardins, Hydro-Québec, and Johnson & Johnson, as well as Arcelor-Mittal, Électricité de France / Gaz de France, Total, and Veolia Environnement, which will each invest $450,000.

"We are thrilled that this new multidisciplinary Chair has been created and we would like to extend warm thanks to our partners who believed in the importance and relevance of this innovative project," declared Mr. Christophe Guy, Director of Research and Innovation of École Polytechnique. "Conducting joint research activities with members of industry is at the heart of Polytechnique's mission. By taking part in this project, you enable us to continue to innovate and spearhead initiatives that will support the sustainable efforts of industries in Canada and abroad."


An increasing number of governments and corporations around the world have turned to life cycle assessment (LCA), a tool endorsed by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). LCA assesses the environmental profile of a product, a process or a service by taking into account all the stages of its life cycle " from cradle to grave ", from the extraction of raw materials up to its end of life, including all the intermediate stages: production, transport and consumption.

In addition to production cost reduction related to the decrease in energy and resource consumption, one of the main benefits of LCA is that it avoids the transfer of pollution from one life cycle stage to another or from one type of pollution to another. It represents an interesting analytical framework at the time of investing in a new technology or process but also in the implementation of an energy policy or a green procurement strategy. LCA can also be used to compare the environmental performance of two products fullfilling the same function. For example, from an environmental point of view, does bioethanol represent a valid alternative to conventional gasoline"

One of the partner case studies consists in comparing different work settings including conventional full-time and part-time work, as well as telecommuting, in order to identify which offers the best environmental option using an LCA study.

"Assessing the consequences related to telecommuting entails taking into account not only the avoided displacements by the employee, but also the resources used or avoided by this employee. Is there a vacant office in the building when the employee works from home" Is there duplication in material resources" Is the increase in energy consumption significant" These are all issues which must be addressed so as to determine the favorable conditions for telecommuting from an environmental standpoint" explains Louise Deschênes, co-chairholder.


"The work of the LCA Chair will spur and support voluntary corporate actions towards sustainable production and consumption», explains co-chairholder, Réjean Samson. "The Chair will provide additional tools to reduce the potential environmental impacts of corporate products and services, enabling businesses to remain competitive and take full responsibility for their actions on the social, economic, and environmental levels. Internationally recognized, LCA is a very stimulating and promising field of research".

"Life cycle thinking helps Alcan to focus on actions that increase the overall benefits of the Company's products to its long-term profitability, the natural environment, and society in general" said Dick Evans, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alcan Inc. "The continued integration of product stewardship also helps Alcan focus its attention on maximizing value", he added.

"This research chair will allow the realization of case studies appropriate for Bell's products services such as the teleconference and the telecommuting or still Telepod our telematic management tool for the fleet of vehicles. Participation in such a project also contributes to strengthening our university-industry partnership and to form up and coming graduates which will benefit the Ecole Polytechnique, Bell Canada and the industry as a whole", says Benoit Sicotte, Associate Director - Corporate Responsibility and Environment at Bell Canada.

"Cascades is very pleased to join the CIRAIG within a partnership which promises to be very rewarding", says Léon Marineau, Vice-President, Environment, Cascades inc. « Now more than ever, companies must better understand their ecological footprint in order to reduce its negative effects. This new collaboration will certainly allow Cascades to remain at the forefront of the industry on sustainable development issues".

"Desjardins Group is gradually incorporating principles of sustainable development into its activities. On the one hand, this contribution to the Chair is proof of its willingness to apply the best measures possible in view of reducing its ecological footprint. On the other hand, it is showing leadership for its business partners, suppliers and business members to follow in its footsteps", stated Alban D'Amours, President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group.

Mindful of its accountability to current and future generations, EDF Group has chosen to subscribe to sustainable development, which aims to balance economic growth, environmental responsibility, and social progress. Given the nature of its activities, the EDF Group is directly confronted with three long-term global issues: the energy resource crisis and climate change, universal access to energy, and biodiversity protection. This is why, in its production and commercial activities, and in its research and development directions, the EDF Group intends to provide and carry out the choices that best meet sustainability requirements. This policy is part of an approach based on openness, responsibility, commitment, and partnership.

The energy future is a major challenge facing our planet, which places Gaz de France at the center of sustainable development issues. For Gaz de France, a commitment to sustainable development means being involved in addressing climate change, preserving resources, meeting increasing energy demands, developing the territory, and curbing the environmental impact of its activities. Gaz de France is also convinced that its commitment to responsible business contributes to its continued success. In fact, the company's strategic choices and management systems have integrated sustainable development principles for the past many years. Life cycle assessment is a fundamental methodological support for this sustainable approach. Committed in this field since the 1990s, Gaz de France has intensified its efforts in life cycle management and is involved in the methodological development of LCA to integrate the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable development.

For these two companies, this partnership with the CIRAIG supports the company's commitment to ensure a development that is respectful of the environment, especially with regards to the major challenge that is the greenhouse effect and global warming. By bringing together members of the scientific community and industrial stakeholders, the Research Chair becomes a rich forum in which to exchange, fostering the advancement of the environmental debate.

"Hydro-Québec counts on innovation and this partnership to rise to the technological challenges of the future. This agreement reflects our will to push the envelope as regards life cycle assessment within our activities. This fits with an approach to sustainable development which takes into account the needs of present and future generations: the underlying theme of all our actions", explains Myriam Truchon, Director - Environment and sustainable development for Hydro-Québec.

Johnson & Johnson also recognize the critical interdependence between human health and the health of our planet. "We understand that environmental degradation poses short-term and long-term threats to human health. Therefore, we feel a special responsibility to protect the environment by setting goals and implementing practices that help us to be among the most environmentally responsible companies in world", as stated in the 2006 Sustainability and Worldwide Contributions Annual Report.

"Total has been a partner with the CIRAIG for many years. The mastering of our impacts having been embedded in the heart of our strategy for sustainable development, the methodology provided by the Chair will constitute a knowledge base of our impacts but more importantly provide a tool for their understanding", as points out Jean-Michel Gires, Director, Environment and Sustainable Development for Total.

"Veolia Environnement's activities make our group particularly sensitive to sustainable development issues such as population growth and the ensuing urban concentration, threats to the quality of natural resources and their renewal, global warming as a result of the greenhouse effect, and access to critical services in emerging countries. These matters are, of course, at the heart of our actions. We are therefore on the cusp of a new chapter: responsible action that meets the expectations of civil society. Veolia also aims to continue and advance the definition of both the social and environmental world minimum standards that can be suitably applied to our main business activities, no matter where they are carried out, and which meet our obligations as the world's leader in environmental solutions. Sustainable development is not a constraint but a source of opportunity", reminds Henri Proglio, CEO of Veolia Environnement.


With the creation of this leading fundamental research and case study program in the energy, telecommunications, pulp and paper, financial services, mining and metallurgy, environmental, and personal hygiene product sectors, the work carried out by this new Chair will generate new knowledge in the life cycle field and lead to the implementation of applicable management tools that are adapted to the specific requirements of industries and governments.

As part of its mandate, the Chair will train over 30 students at the masters and doctoral levels. This highly skilled workforce will be among the valuable resources that the research will generate. At the international level, members will work closely with experts involved in the Life Cycle Initiative of the United Nations Environment Program and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (UNEP-SETAC).
For more information on the International Industrial Chair in Life Cycle Assessment Methodology, please visit

About the CIRAIG

The Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG), which includes eight Quebec universities, was founded by École Polytechnique de Montréal in collaboration with Université de Montréal and HEC Montréal. The CIRAIG was created to meet the demands of industry and governments to develop leading edge academic expertise in sustainable development tools. The CIRAIG collaborates with numerous research centres worldwide and has been actively involved in the research and development of tools for the industry and government

About École Polytechnique

Founded in 1873, École Polytechnique de Montréal is one of Canada's leading engineering institutions in terms of both teaching and research. It is the largest engineering school in Quebec as far as its student population and the scope of its research activities are concerned. École Polytechnique provides instruction in 11 engineering specialties and is responsible for more than one-quarter of university research in engineering in Quebec. The school has 230 professors and nearly 6,000 students. Its operating budget is $85 million, in addition to a $68-million research and infrastructure fund, which includes grants and contracts worth $38 million. Polytechnique is affiliated with Université de Montréal.

Polytechnique Montréal

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