Posted on January 20, 2018 at 10:00 PM
Life Cycle Assessment
Although much progress has been made to improve sustainability in recent years, there are still many hurdles to be overcome. Life-cycle assessment can play a vital role in improving sustainability. Life-cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life-cycle analysis, ecobalance, and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. Designers use this process to help critique their products. LCAs can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:
1. Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
2. Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
3. Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decision.
Goals and purpose
The term life cycle refers to the notion that a fair, holistic assessment requires the assessment of raw-material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal including all intervening transportation steps necessary or caused by the product's existence.
There are two main types of LCA. Attributional LCAs seek to establish (or attribute) the burdens associated with the production and use of a product, or with a specific service or process, at a point in time (typically the recent past). Consequential LCAs seek to identify the environmental consequences of a decision or a proposed change in a system under study (oriented to the future), which means that market and economic implications of a decision may have to be taken into account. Social LCA is under development as a different approach to life cycle thinking intended to assess social implications or potential impacts. Social LCA should be considered as an approach that is complementary to environmental LCA.
The procedures of life cycle assessment (LCA) are part of the ISO 14000 environmental management standards: in ISO 14040:2006 and 14044:2006. (ISO 14044 replaced earlier versions of ISO 14041 to ISO 14043.) GHG product life cycle assessments can also comply with specifications such as PAS 2050 and the GHG Protocol Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard
Steps in LCA
LCA is mostly used to support business strategy (18%) and R&D (18%), as input to product or process design (15%), in education (13%) and for labeling or product declarations (11%). LCA will be continuously integrated into the built environment as tools such as the European ENSLIC Building project guidelines for buildings or developed and implemented, which provide practitioners guidance on methods to implement LCI data into the planning and design process.
Major corporations all over the world are either undertaking LCA in house or commissioning studies, while governments support the development of national databases to support LCA. Of particular note is the growing use of LCA for ISO Type III labels called Environmental Product Declarations, defined as "quantified environmental data for a product with pre-set categories of parameters based on the ISO 14040 series of standards, but not excluding additional environmental information". These third-party certified LCA-based labels provide an increasingly important basis for assessing the relative environmental merits of competing products. Third-party certification plays a major role in today's industry. Independent certification can show a company's dedication to safer and environmental friendlier products to customers and NGOs. LCA also has major roles in environmental impact assessment, integrated waste management and pollution studies.