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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Do you require a life cycle assessment for a product or service? Please contact us for a quotation.

A Life Cycle Assessment consists of a thorough study of a products manufacture, use, and disposal in an attempt to quantify it environmental impact, or at least compare it to that of a similar product or method of doing the same thing.

For example you may wish to know which dishwasher detergent has the lowest environmental impact which would be a handy thing if your laundry company was operating under ISO 14001 or EMAS. You could show that you were making an improvement. If that same laundry had a discharge to water course the LCA of two differing laundry detergents might also show which would improve the quality of your discharge effluent.

Way back in 1970s people were trying to come up with a way of comparing two products, to find which would have the lower environmental impact. This is useful pre-production (development) as well as post production. One of the first pioneers of Life Cycle Assessment was the Midwest Research Institute, funded by Coca Cola.

The term cradle to grave is often heard when discussing Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), in your minds eye you start to form the image of  straight line with a beginning and and end but in reality Life Cycle Assessment is more a fragmented circle . . . with legs. Not as neat and tidy as you might hope for.

This is due to the often intermingled processes that are involved in a product's (or service's) life cycle for example, when making bread large amounts of heat are used to bake the bread, and it would be all too easy to prescribe impact to the creation of that heat. But in reality waste heat may be piped next-door to heat a large office complex (district heating). So waste is not always waste, and energy consumption is not always tied to the one product or service you may be observing.

So let us now explore the different types of LCA, and there applications.

Please choose a link from below to learn more about Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
What is a Inventory within the context of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)?   What are the different types of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)?   What is the Basic Methodology of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?
Which International Standards Relate to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?   Are there any Guides to help when conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?   Where can I get the information required for a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

What is an Inventory within the context of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)?

In inventory is the part of the Life Cycle Assessment where you put all of your hard data used to formulate the products impacts. In the inventory you list all of your "ingredients", and the volumes which are used in your defined functional unit.

Example table for our beetroot example:

Inventory - Ingredients Inventory - Unit Inventory - Product (Could be two or more)
Fossil Mj 1.5
Electrcity Mj 0.2
Other Energy Mj 0.0
Particles g 25.0
CO2 g 2.1
SO2 g 1.2
Discharges to Water    
DSS g ?
Solid Wastes    
Mineral Wastes g ?
Oil g ?

In this way we can build up a picture of the impact of our products / services, in this case a beet root. I made these number up so please don't use them for anything.

Types of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Types of life cycle assessment are largely defined by the resources available to conduct the study, also the intended outcome and the product or service being studied.

Qualitative Life Cycle Assessment

This method uses a rapid method of qualitative ideas to quickly establish which products and services might present best options. This method is useful when:

  • Considering Supply Chain Solutions
  • Building Design and Construction
  • Development of Campaign Ideas
  • Life Style Choices

This method is fine for choosing between products with obvious differences in most cases it is necessary and advisable to conduct;

Quantitative Life Cycle Assessment

A quantitative Life Cycle Assessment can be used to compare two products, or consider one product on its own. It is particularly suited to;

-Product Development

-To prove adherence to KPIs

-To Develop Eco Labels

-Used to underpin EDP (Environmental product Declaration)

Where can I get the information required for a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

If you wish to carry out an accurate an meaningful life cycle analysis you must have complete access to the records associated with the products manufacture. Some of this information may be difficult to get hold of and may require the installation of sub meters for water and electricity, and access to records which normally companies would normally not make available such as formulae of additives and lists of ingredients complete with suppliers.

In recent years there are various data bases that have sprung up to answer the need of the average consultant looking to carry out an LCA there are some excellent data bases available from Oxford University's ECI. And there are tens of other European initiatives which can provide data for standard unit volumes / weights of input materials.

For example below is shown an extract from Oxford University's ECI data base.


ECI is involved in a wide range of research projects that address the impacts of climate change, the possibilities for adaptation, the evolution of climate policy and the communication of climate change data and issues to society.

These webpages highlight the ECI’s contribution to global climate change research through many funded projects, programs, fellowships, international collaborations and postgraduate research.

Research is organized around five key themes: Science, Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation , Communication and takes place within the funding initiatives outlined below.

What is the Basic Methodology of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

When we are taking the first steps towards conducting an LCA we should perhaps take the time to assessable a table like the one below.

Column 1 - Question you may ask to try and establish the life cycle of a product or service.

Column 2 - "Ingredients" & Actions of the Product Consumes or Creates

Column 3 - Categorization of Impacts - For example use of fossil fuels and methane emission can both be categorized as ecological impacts because they both cause global warming. In this instance we will consider the life cycle of a Beetroot.

The aim of all of this is to boil down all of the impacts in to a comparable

1 - Phases of Life Cycle 2 - Inputs / Outputs with Impacts 3 - Impact Categories

Raw Materials

  • What raw materials go into the creation of this product?
  • How and where are they harvested?
Human Health


  • How is the product manufactured?
  • What types of fuels are used to supply the plant?
  • Are the employees treated fairly?
  • Are there any carcinogens in the product?
Plastic (Packaging)
Water (Washing)

Human Health

Manufacturing Waste

  • Where does the waste from the manufacturing process go?
  • Can the waste be reused?
Human Health


  • How far does the product have to travel?
  • How is the product transported to the customer?
  • Are the most sustainable transportation methods used?
Vehicle Emissions
Vehicle Maintenance
Vehicle Embodied
Human Health


  • What goes into the installation of the material?
  • Do you need additional elements like mastic or a vapor barrier? If so, you might need to look into the life cycle of those elements as well.
Probably not applicable in the instance of a beetroot. NA


  • How is the material used?
  • Is it durable?
  • What is the typical lifespan?
  • What can be done to extend the lifespan?


  • Are there chemicals needed to maintain this product?
Refrigeration Resources

Disposal/ Repurposing/Reuse

  • How do you dispose of the product?
  • Can it be reused or repurposed?
  • Is it recyclable?
  • Does the manufacturer take the product back?
Human Health

Now in the above table the Impact Categories for the Life Cycle Analysis have been placed in there ultimate groups. But for example "resource Use" as an Impact Category would take in to account Energy, Materials, Water and Land (but this depends on what life cycle assessment guidance you follow)

Standards for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

ISO 14040 - Environmental management -- Life cycle assessment -- Principles and framework

ISO 14040:2006 describes the principles and framework for life cycle assessment (LCA) including: definition of the goal and scope of the LCA, the life cycle inventory analysis (LCI) phase, the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) phase, the life cycle interpretation phase, reporting and critical review of the LCA, limitations of the LCA, the relationship between the LCA phases, and conditions for use of value choices and optional elements.

ISO 14040:2006 covers life cycle assessment (LCA) studies and life cycle inventory (LCI) studies. It does not describe the LCA technique in detail, nor does it specify methodologies for the individual phases of the LCA.

The intended application of LCA or LCI results is considered during definition of the goal and scope, but the application itself is outside the scope of this International Standard.

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 14044 - Environmental management -- Life cycle assessment -- Requirements and guidelines

ISO 14044:2006 specifies requirements and provides guidelines for life cycle assessment (LCA) including: definition of the goal and scope of the LCA, the life cycle inventory analysis (LCI) phase, the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) phase, the life cycle interpretation phase, reporting and critical review of the LCA, limitations of the LCA, relationship between the LCA phases, and conditions for use of value choices and optional elements.

ISO 14044:2006 covers life cycle assessment (LCA) studies and life cycle inventory (LCI) studies.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is the world's largest developer and publisher of International Standards.

Are there any Guides to help when conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

There are a number of guides relating to life cycle assessment, they nearly all were written originally in the 1990s and should not be confused with the ISO life cycle assessment standards which they pre-date. Below are described three by means of a selection.


SETAC Europe Life Cycle Assessment Guidelines (1996)

SETAC Europe is a Geographic Unit (GU) of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), established to promote and undertake activities of SETAC in Europe, and to support activities of SETAC in the Middle East and Africa, currently organized as a Regional Branch to SETAC Europe. SETAC Europe is dedicated to the use of multidisciplinary approaches to examine the impacts of stressors, chemicals, and technology on the environment.

The mission of the Life-cycle Assessment (LCA) Advisory Group in Europe is to advance the science, practice, and application of LCAs to reduce the resource consumption and environmental burdens associated with products, packaging, processes, or activities. The organisation serves as the focal point in Europe of a broad-based forum for the identification, resolution, and communication of issues regarding LCAs, and it facilitates, coordinates, and provides guidance for the development and implementation of LCAs in close cooperation with the North America LCA Advisory Group.

SETAC have numerous guides available:

Code of Life-Cycle Inventory Practice (Book & CD)


CML's Guide

CML have an excellent guide on LCA called Handbook on Life Cycle Assessment.

In 1992 the Centre of Environmental Science (CML) at Leiden University, The Netherlands, published a Guide on Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. Many copies of this guide have been sold all over the world, setting the standard for a long time.


Nordic Guidelines on Life Cycle Assessment (1995)

This seems to be the most referenced piece of work in the world when it comes to LCA. It is a 224 page guide which is one of the best guides available.

Nordic are the people behind the nordic swan eco label.

There is a copy available on google books, for free and botched up reprints are available from amazon.


Other Books on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Hitchhikers Guide to LCA

Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Goods and Services: An Input-Output Approach by Chris T. Hendrickson, Dr. Lester B. Lave PhD and H. Scott Matthews

Life Cycle Assessment in the Built Environment by Robert Crawford

Life-Cycle Assessment: Inventory Guidelines and Principles: Inventory Guidelines and Priniples by Battelle Memorial In and Mary Ann Curran