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The basics of the LCA methodology

Our sustainability consulting services, from corporate-level consulting to single-product assessments, are all based around life cycle assessment (LCA). With this fact-based, scientific approach, we can help you understand the complex interaction between a product and the environment from cradle to grave.

LCA methodology applications

 

What is LCA?

Life cycle assessment is the factual analysis of a product’s entire life cycle in terms of sustainability. Standards for the LCA methodology are provided by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in ISO 14040 and 14044. The standards describe the main phases of an LCA: goal and scope, inventory analysis, impact assessment and interpretation.

 

Goal & Scope definition

The goal & scope definition ensures the LCA is performed consistently. This step of the LCA methodology describes the most important choices of the study, especially in terms of system boundaries, output processes and allocation and avoided impacts

 

Inventory analysis of extractions and emissions

A life cycle inventory (LCI) includes information on all of the environmental inputs and outputs associated with a product or service, such as material and energy requirements, emissions and wastes. The inventory process seems simple, but is subject to practical issues in the LCA methodology, such as geographical variations, data quality and technology choice.

 

Impact assessment

The previous step results in an inventory list. This long list of substances is difficult to interpret, which is why the next step is the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). During the LCIA, substances are classified, characterised, normalised (compared to a reference value) and weighted to generate a score.

 

These scores can either be translated into environmental themes such as climate change (the midpoint impact), or into issues of concern such as human health or the natural environment (the endpoint impact). In the LCA methodology, endpoint results have a higher level of uncertainty compared to midpoint results but are easier to understand by decision makers.

 

Interpretation

Interpretation describes a number of checks to ensure the conclusions are adequately supported by the data and procedures used in the study. The results need to be reported in the most informative way possible and the improvement opportunities need to be evaluated. We recommend that you check the results with uncertainty, sensitivity and contribution analyses.

 

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