Sustainability metrics: Life cycle assessment and green design in polymers

Michaelangelo D. Tabone, James J. Cregg, Eric J. Beckman, Amy E. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

288 Scopus citations


This study evaluates the efficacy of green design principles such as the "12 Principles of Green Chemistry," and the "12 Principles of Green Engineering" with respect to environmental impacts found using life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. A case study of 12 polymers is presented, seven derived from petroleum, four derived from biological sources, and one derived from both. The environmental impacts of each polymer's production are assessed using LCA methodology standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Each polymer is also assessed for its adherence to green design principles using metrics generated specifically for this paper. Metrics include atom economy, mass from renewable sources, biodegradability, percent recycled, distance of furthest feedstock, price, life cycle health hazards and life cycle energy use. A decision matrix is used to generate single value metrics for each polymer evaluating either adherence to green design principles or life-cycle environmental impacts. Results from this study show a qualified positive correlation between adherence to green design principles and a reduction of the environmental impacts of production. The qualification results from a disparity between biopolymers and petroleum polymers. While biopolymers rank highly in terms of green design, they exhibit relatively large environmental impacts from production. Biopolymers rank 1, 2, 3, and 4 based on green design metrics; however they rank in the middle of the LCA rankings. Polyolefins rank 1, 2, and 3 in the LCA rankings, whereas complex polymers, such as PET, PVC, and PC place at the bottom of both ranking systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8264-8269
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Sep 24 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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