Product life cycles
Sustainability and production can go hand in hand
Reading time: 9 min
The European sustainable development strategy includes the circular economy as one of its key elements to promote competitiveness, generate employment, and foster economic growth without compromising the possibilities of future generations. In the transition towards a decarbonized economy that combats global warming, companies seek the way to increase the life cycle of their products with the aim of using natural resources efficiently and minimizing the generation of waste.
What exactly is a product life cycle?
The life cycle of a product refers to the stages any commercial item goes through from its inception to its withdrawal from the market.
This concept is born from the analogy between the evolution of human beings and that of products, as both go through distinct stages throughout their existence. A living being's life cycle passes through birth, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and death.
Commercial items follow a similar evolution that comprises the five stages of a product's life cycle, which we will review below.
Five stages of a product’s life cycle
Development is the moment of materializing the idea. It encompasses all the activities involved to obtain raw materials and their subsequent treatment to give shape to the designed item. To make this process more sustainable, it is necessary to commit to renewable energy and biodegradable materials, as well as to develop efficient low-emissions logistics.
The launch marks the moment in which the item is introduced onto the market. Even though in these early market penetration stages sales may not be very high, companies make a huge investment in advertisement to ensure the product reaches the consumer. Developing promotional campaigns that are committed to sustainability — for example, with electronic media or biodegradable promotional materials— is critical to guarantee a low carbon footprint throughout the value chain.
Within the market stages, growth refers to the sales acceleration period. It is the most strategic stage of the life cycle of a product because at this point the company can differentiate itself from the competition through its brand image. To increase commercialization, logistics can play a crucial role. It is the time to design a sustainable distribution model, guarantee the sustainability of the supply chain, and offset or reduce CO2 emissions.
In the maturity stage, the market already knows the product well and is adapting to its use. It is important to analyze the degree of customer satisfaction to see if the item continues to meet their expectations or if new features should be developed. Technology and the different types of innovation are key elements that can adapt it to the needs of the market and extend its useful life. Many of the so-called professions of the future focus on this area.
For different reasons, a time comes in which consumers decide to stop using a product and sales plummet. The time comes to take it off the market bit by bit or adapt it to give rise to a new product. The item has met its function and if we have committed to sustainability throughout all stages, it will be easy to recycle both the materials and the infrastructures to give them a new life.
Why do products have a limited life?
In the production and consumption models based on a linear economy of “use and throw away”, the life cycle of a product ends either because of the breakthrough of new technologies, change in consumer habits, or planned obsolescence, which deliberately limits its useful life. In essence, it is a commercial strategy that seeks to instill in the consumer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, and a little sooner than necessary.
The circular economy seeks to create value from the first stage of life of a product so that it can easily adapt to the breakthrough of new technologies (like the so-called disruptive technologies), the appearance of new materials such as graphene, the change in consumer habits, or its reuse when it enters the decline stage. Specifically, it seeks to make the life cycle of the product longer to make it more sustainable. This must be one of the major goals for the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are currently experiencing.
Examples of product life cycle
The sustainability assessment of the life cycle of a product is part of a company’s commitment to the transition towards a low-emissions circular economy. This analysis, defined in the United Nations Environment Program, describes all environmental, social, and economic impacts in the decision-making process for the development of sustainable products and services throughout their entire life cycle.
At Repsol, we apply circular economy principles throughout the entire production cycle, from the source to the commercialization of our products and services. Through ecodesign, we incorporate circular criteria from the earliest stages, such as the conceptualization of our products, to extend their useful life and be able to recycle their components in the final stage, including bottles.