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Environmental Assessment Course. Life Cycle Assessment. Contents. What is LCA? Impact assessment LCA in different countries LCA stages LCA methods Motivations Strengths and weaknesses LCA actors Marketing aspects ISO standards Case study in Switcherland. LCA.

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environmental assessment course

Environmental Assessment Course

Life Cycle Assessment

  • What is LCA?
  • Impact assessment
  • LCA in different countries
  • LCA stages
  • LCA methods
  • Motivations
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • LCA actors
  • Marketing aspects
  • ISO standards
  • Case study in Switcherland

Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is a sophisticated way of examining the total environmental impact of a product through every step of its life -- from obtaining raw materials all the way through making it in a factory, selling it in a store, using it in the home, and disposing of it. Disposal options include incineration, burial in a landfill, or recycling.

what is lca
What is LCA?

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a technique for assessing the potential environmental aspects associated with a product (or service), by:

  • compiling an inventory of relevant inputs and outputs,
  • evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with those inputs and outputs,
  • interpreting the results of the inventory and impact phases in relation to the objectives of the study.

(from the ISO Committee Draft 14040.3 draft on LCA, October 1995)

life cycle assessment
Life Cycle Assessment
  • The life-cycle stages. This is the physical sequence of unit processes across the life-cycle.
  • Analysis of multiple environmental and resource issues (i.e.: inputs and outputs). LCA is not just a single-issue tool; it spreads consideration to tradeoffs across many environmental concerns.
  • Assessment. LCA extends beyond quantitative analysis to a point where an evaluation or judgement is made. At its simplest, this may be a statement of what's better or what's worse.
what is life cycle assessment
What is Life Cycle Assessment?

from ISO 14040.2 Draft: Life Cycle Assessment - Principles and Guidelines

Life Cycle Assessment:

  • A systematic set of procedures for compiling and examining the inputs and outputs of materials and energy and the associated environmental impacts directly attributable to the functioning of a product or service system throughout its life cycle.
what is life cycle
What is Life Cycle

Life Cycle:

  • Consecutive and inter-linked stages of a product or service system, from the extraction of natural resources to the final disposal.

from ISO 14040.2 Draft: Life Cycle Assessment - Principles and Guidelines

setac definition of lca
SETAC Definition of LCA

“Life-cycle assessment is an objective process to evaluate the environmental burdens associated with a product, process, or activity by identifying and quantifying energy and material usage and environmental releases, to assess the impacts of those energy and material uses and releases to the environment, and to evaluate and implement opportunities to effect environmental improvements. The assessment includes the entire life-cycle of the product, process or activity, encompassing extracting and processing raw materials; manufacturing, transportation, and distribution; use/re-use/maintenance; recycling; and final disposal."

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

iso14040 lca definition
ISO14040 LCA Definition

LCA is a technique for assessing the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product by:

  • compiling an inventory of relevant inputs and outputs of a system;
  • evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with those inputs and outputs;
  • interpreting the results of the inventory and impact phases in relation to the objectives of the study.

Which way will it fall?

Environmental benefits from water saving

Life cycle environmental impacts


Environmental benefits from water saving

Life cycle environmental impacts


Environmental benefits from water saving

Life cycle environmental impacts

types of environmental interventions in lca
Types of environmental interventions in LCA
  • Extraction of abiotic resources
  • Extraction of biotic resources
  • Land use
  • Climate change
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Photo-oxidant creation
  • Human toxicity
  • Eco-toxicity
  • Acidification
  • Nutrification
impact assessment
Impact assessment

Use of non-renewable resources

Global warming

Ozone depletion

Human toxicity

Ecosystem toxicity



COD, BOD in water


Noise... etc.

The inventory is usually translated into a set of environmental effects:

Fuels & energy

Raw materials



Solid waste

Air: CO2, NOX, SOX, etc.

Water: Acid, nitrates, phosphates, etc.

Waste heat


Rebound effects

‘Sustainability concepts that rest on the idea of resource or energy improvements due to technological progress tend to overestimate the actual saving effects because they ignore the behavioural responses evoked by technological improvements that lead to rebound effects’ (Binswanger, 2001)


Different types of rebound effect

  • Direct rebound effect – e.g. spending longer in a shower with a low-flow fitting.
  • Indirect rebound effect – money saved on water bill is spent on further consumption (e.g. holiday in Greece)
  • General equilibrium effects – involving producers and consumers and representing the result of myriad adjustments of supply and demand in all sectors.
lca and the regulatory process
LCA and the Regulatory Process
  • LCA is mandatory in some European countries
    • used as the basis of packaging recovery and recycling targets
  • LCA is voluntary in the U.S. At present
    • its use is limited, but expanding
lca in germany
LCA in Germany
  • Only big companies
  • Mainly retrospective
  • Training tool
  • Decision making tools
lca in italy
LCA in Italy
  • Initiative of private sector
  • Problems with SME-s
lca in sweden
LCA in Sweden
  • Most advanced
  • High environmental awareness
  • Proactive behaviour of companies
  • Collaboration between business and research
  • Collaboration between business and government
  • Weak intervention of the state
  • Rising trend continues
lca in switcherland
LCA in Switcherland
  • Very successful
  • Proactive companies
  • Saturation reached
life cycle assessment stages
Life Cycle Assessment Stages


Life-Cycle Stages




Raw Materials Acquisition











Recycle/Waste Management



3 steps of lca
3 Steps of LCA
  • Life-cycle inventories
    • involve quantifying energy and raw materials use and the emissions associated with a product, process or activity;
  • Life-cycle impact analysis
    • assess the impacts of the environmental loadings identified in the life-cycle inventory;
3 steps of lca cont
3 Steps of LCA (cont.)
  • Life-cycle improvement analysis
    • used to identify opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts identified in the impact analysis through modification of the inventory.
inventory analysis
Inventory Analysis
  • define purpose
  • define system boundaries
  • geographic scope
  • types of data used
  • data collection and synthesis procedures
  • data quality measures
  • computational model construction
  • presentation of results
eco costs
  • The costs to prevent polluting emissions (to the air, water and ground), during the life cycle, at a sustainable level of earth’s carrying capacity
  • The eco-costs of materials, taking into account the ratio of recycling
  • The cost of energy at the price level of sustainable energy
  • The eco-costs related to the costs of labour
  • The depreciation of the eco-costs of production facilities
eco costs value ratio
Eco-costs/Value ratio






lca characterization methods
LCA Characterization Methods
  • loading
  • equivalency
  • inherent chemical properties
  • generic exposure and effects
  • site-specific exposure and effects
streamlining lca methods
Streamlining LCA Methods
  • Limiting or eliminating life-cycle stages (usually upstream or downstream stages from the main manufacturing stage)
  • Focusing on specific environmental impacts or issues
  • Eliminating specific inventory parameters
  • Limiting or eliminating impact assessment
  • Using qualitative as well as quantitative data
  • Using surrogate process data
  • Establishing criteria to be used as “show stoppers” or “knockouts”
  • Limiting the constituents studied to those meeting a threshold quantity (for example, ignore raw materials comprising less than 20% by weight of the LCI total mass)
benefits of lca
Benefits Of LCA
  • companies can claim one product is better than another on the basis of LCA
  • LCA inventory process helps to narrow in on the area where the biggest reductions in environmental emissions can be made
  • can be used to reduce production costs
strengths of lca
Strengths of LCA
  • Comprehensive with respect to environmental impact connected to a function
  • Avoids problem shifting
  • Explicit distinction between science based information and value choices
  • International standardisation by ISO
  • Best practice identification envisaged in SETAC-UNEP programme
weaknesses of lca
Weaknesses of LCA
  • Too complex
  • Too data intensive
  • Does not directly consider future changes in technology and demand
  • Does not consider societal effects
  • Only known and quantifyable environmental effects are considered
  • Requires expert knowledge
drawbacks of lca
Drawbacks of LCA
  • Using LCA to compare products is like comparing apples to oranges.
      • For example, which is worse: a product that pollutes the air by consuming energy from coal-fired power plants or one that disrupts ecosystems by consuming energy from massive hydroelectric dam projects? Both types of pollution should be minimized if possible.
drawbacks cont
Drawbacks (cont.)
  • Comparison between heavy energy demand and heavy water use: which imposes greater environmental burden?
  • How can the use of non-renewable mineral resources like oil or gas (the ingredients of plastics) be compared with the production of softwoods for paper?
  • How should the combined impacts of the landfilling of wastes (air and groundwater pollution, transport impacts etc) be compared with those produced by the burning of wastes for energy production (predominantly emissions to air)?
drawbacks cont41
Drawbacks (cont.)
  • LCAs may give different and sometimes contradictory conclusions about similar products.
  • Recycling adds more complexity to LCA.
who does lca
Who Does LCA?
  • Conducted by an industry sector to enable it to identify areas where improvements can be made, in environmental terms.
  • LCA may be intended to provide environmental data for the public or for government.
  • Companies use LCA for marketing and advertising, to support claims that their products are 'environmentally friendly' or even 'environmentally superior' to those of their rivals.
eco labeling
  • widely used in Europe to help consumers distinguish “environmentally friendly” products from others
    • Germany - Blue Angel
    • Netherlands - Dutch Ecolabel
    • EU developing unified European program
    • also addressed in ISO 14000
  • only recently being used in the U.S.
    • Green Seal
  • can be very misleading if not done properly
iso standards
ISO standards
  • ISO 14040
    • Environmental management - Life Cycle Assessment - Principles and Framework
  • ISO 14041
    • Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Goal and scope definition and inventory analysis
  • ISO 14042
    • Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Life cycle impact assessment
  • ISO 14043
    • Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Life cycle interpretation
iso standards cont
ISO standards cont..
  • ISO TR 14047 (not yet published)
    • Environmental management -- Life cycle assessment -- Examples of application of ISO 14042
  • ISO 14048
    • Environmental Management - Life Cycle Assessment - Life Cycle assessment data documentation format
  • ISO TR 14049
    • Environmental Management - Life Cycle Assessment - Examples of Application of ISO 14041 to Goal and Scope Definition and Inventory Analysis

Step 1: Inventory of the necessary equipment for the Internet infrastructure at the EPFL

The functional unit = Internet infrastructure during one year


Results: the non-renewable primary embodied energy (use phase and production)

cpu = control unit

  • 1. PCs are dominating (control unit (cpu) + screen)
  • 2. Contribution of the switches and servers are significant
  • 3. IO LCA value is two times the PLCA result

Non-renewable embodied primary energy, comparison between use and production phase (relative value)


Non-renewable embodied primary energy, comparison between use and production phase (absolute value)

  • 1. Use phase is in most of the cases dominating
  • 2. The embodied energy during production is significant