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The basics of the LCA methodology

So, you have heard about life cycle assessment and how beneficial it is for sustainability in business. But how does that work exactly? How can a request for a report or a call for insight into your supply chain help your competitive position? And how would you get started with any of this?

LCA methodology basics

 

Since all our sustainability consulting services, from corporate-level consulting to single-product assessments, are based around life cycle assessment (LCA), we will give you a quick overview of the methodology.

 

What is LCA?

 

Life cycle assessment is the factual analysis of a product’s entire life cycle in terms of sustainability. With LCA, you can evaluate the environmental impacts of your product or service from cradle to grave.

 

LCA is a standardised methodology, which gives it its reliability and transparency. The standards are provided by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in ISO 14040 and 14044, and describe the four main phases of an LCA:

  1. goal and scope,
  2. inventory analysis,
  3. impact assessment
  4. and interpretation.

1. LCA Goal & Scope definition

 

The goal & scope definition ensures the LCA is performed consistently.

 

An LCA models a product, service, or system life cycle. What is important to realize is that a model is a simplification of a complex reality and as with all simplifications this means that the reality will be distorted in some way. The challenge for an LCA practitioner is to develop the model in such a way that the simplifications and distortions do not influence the results too much. The best way to deal with this problem is to carefully define the goal and scope of the LCA study.

 

In the goal and scope the most important (often subjective) choices are described, such as the reason for executing the LCA, a precise definition of the product and its life cycle, and a description of the system boundaries.

 

 

2. Inventory analysis of extractions and emissions

 

In the inventory analysis, you look at all the environmental inputs and outputs associated with a product or service, such as the use of raw materials and energy, the emission of pollutants and the waste streams. This is where you get the complete picture.

 

 

3. Impact assessment (LCIA)

 

In the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), you draw the conclusions that allow you to make better business decisions. You classify the environmental impacts, evaluate them by what is most important to your company, and translate them into environmental themes such as global warming or human health.


The most important choice you have to make is the desired level of integration of the results. This usually depends on how you would like to address your audience and the ability of your audience to understand detailed results.

 

 

4. Interpretation

 

During the interpretation phase, you check that your conclusions are well-substantiated. The ISO 14044 standard describes a number of checks to test whether conclusions are adequately supported by the data and by the procedures used. This way, you can share your results and improvement decisions with the world without any surprises. 

 

"PRé was able to make complicated methodological concepts very clear for non-experts, which was really useful when they moderated the group of stakeholders, with different levels of understanding of LCA. This resulted in common understanding and team focus on the shared goals. PRé uses a pragmatic approach, keeping things practical and elegant, but basing their work on really robust, scientific methodology."

Jodie Bricout, Development Manager CAP’EM.
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Get extensive insights

Read our manual to get extensive insights into the four phases of LCA and the applications of this method:

Download the manual  

 

Get started with LCA

Do you want to find out how the LCA methodology can help you reach your environmental business goals? Let our consultants help you get started!


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