The thesis premise is that life cycle thinking (LCT) provides an effective strategy for the building materials industry to implement life cycle assessment (LCA) in order to address the environmental impacts of its products and processes. LCA is the most widely used methodology for product assessment and has been widely accepted as an appropriate tool for material analysis. A hierarchical top-down industrial management perspective, however, is generally advocated, and barriers to implementation of such LCA, particularly by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), have been identified. Material industry SMEs, who have comparatively less capacity for adoption of LCA, require strategies to assist them in understanding their detrimental environmental effects, as well as how to provide verifiable information along the supply chain. The impact of building materials is significant, and has implications in the creation of 'green' architecture. Ecological architects are exploring initiatives, such as LCT, that can assist industry to 'green' the supply chain. LCT is a holistic way of addressing problems using an understanding of nature's cyclic principles. Within this approach a diverse selection of practical techniques can exist to support implementation strategies, including Environmental Management, Appropriate Technology, Action Learning and Participatory Consideration.
The new work in this thesis was the definition of the LCT approach for material industry SMEs, incorporating the identified practical techniques and addressing the inherent LCA implementation barriers. LCT is a philosophy of learning and a social directive, based on human understanding, capabilities and awareness in order to make significant changes. The LCT approach developed to allow SMEs to consider building materials over their life cycle, and take major responsibility for the entire supply chain. It provides a means of understanding environmental effects as well as the complexity and conflicts existing between environmental issues. The LCT approach has been tested on the Australian plywood industry in an initial implementation process investigation. The educative component of the new LCT approach is a beneficial outcome and provides initial indication of LCT application within industry and along the supply chain on a cyclic, action-learning-action basis. Further recommendations and proposals have been detailed for future implementation, development of industry guides, and environmental profiles that will assist in 'greening' the supply chain and disseminating information.