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LCA: All you need to know about Life Cycle Assessment

What is LCA or Life Cycle Assessment?

There are accredited organizations that establish standards validated by states, committees, and other organizations. The International Organization for Standardization is one of them. It is particularly responsible for the ISO 14040 to 14044 standards, which define a method for quantifying the environmental impacts of services and products throughout their lifecycle. A procedure then appeared: that of life cycle assessment (LCA).

Life cycle assessment is therefore a standardized evaluation method / procedure for performing an environmental assessment of the entire life cycle of a product or service.

This analysis will allow us to list and quantify the flows of materials and energy associated with human activity from the beginning to the very end. The framework for a life cycle assessment is carried out by following the different stages (which we will detail below):

  • Goal and scope definition

  • Life cycle inventory analysis

  • Impact assessment

  • Interpretation and conclusion

An LCA allows both comparison of the environmental impact of products and services, and also reduction of this impact.

What are the two approaches to carrying out a life cycle assessment?

There are two main approaches to carrying out a life cycle assessment: the attributional approach and the consequential approach.

The attributional approach

lca - life cycle assessment - kabaun

The attributional approach focuses on the environmental impacts of a product or service as they are, without considering the changes that may occur in the future as a result of its use. This approach is useful for identifying the environmental hotspots of a product or service, and for making comparisons between different products or services.

The consequential approach

The consequential approach, on the other hand, considers the environmental impacts of a product or service as they may be affected by changes in the future. This approach is useful for understanding the potential long-term impacts of a product or service, and for identifying opportunities for improving the sustainability of a product or service over time.

The 4 phases of a life cycle assessment?

The framework of ISO 14040 to 14044 standards is carried out in four phases:

Goal and scope definition

The purpose here is to clearly define the scope of the study as well as the perimeter. This phase is about asking the right questions that will allow us to define a perimeter, that is to say:

  • What is the objective? (example: the goal is to obtain the LCA of a car)

  • What are the limits of this objective? (example: What type, brand, size, of car, simply its use or from its manufacture to its end of life)

  • Know whether to propose an improvement or simply present the study for the sake of it.

Life cycle inventory analysis

Here we analyze the environmental inputs and outputs for each phase of the lifecycle. We then begin the search for data that will allow us to determine the inputs and outputs of what we are studying. We determine the different stages of the process that will be sources of pollution (example: extraction of raw material for the car battery, transport and assembly of materials that will make the car, etc.

Impact assessment

The inputs and outputs listed in the previous phase are then categorized into different environmental impacts (greenhouse effect, acidification, depletion of natural resources, etc.). Through this evaluation, we are particularly looking to identify areas for improvement, to compare with other similar products, or to indicate points that may require action.

Interpretation and conclusion

The final phase of the life cycle assessment, interpretation aims to analyze the results obtained in relation to the objectives and scope of the study. This phase thus presents the various hypotheses, the limitations of the study, and provides recommendations for reducing the environmental footprint of the product or service being studied."

In what cases a company should carry out a life cycle assessment?

LCA can be carried out in several cases:

  • Improving the environmental performance of a product or project: by identifying the most impactful stages of the life cycle, LCA can help to implement actions to reduce these impacts and improve the environmental performance of the product or project.

  • Communicating on the environmental commitments of a company: a company can thus transparently and objectively show the efforts it is making to reduce its environmental impacts and achieve its environmental objectives.

  • Establishing a sustainable procurement strategy: by carrying out an LCA, a buyer can evaluate the environmental impacts of the products it wants to purchase and choose those with the most favorable environmental performance.

  • Establishing environmental standards and regulations: public authorities can establish environmental standards and regulations based on the environmental impacts of products and projects.

What are the limitations of a life cycle assessment?

Although LCA is a useful and rigorous tool for studying the environmental impact of a product, it has some limitations to keep in mind:

  • The reliability of data: to carry out an LCA, it is necessary to collect reliable and verified data on the different stages of the life cycle of the product or project. However, it can be difficult to find reliable and complete sources of data, which can affect the quality and relevance of the results of the LCA.

  • The complexity of environmental impacts: the environmental impacts of a product or project can be very complex and difficult to assess, due to the diversity of factors involved (climate, ecosystem, energy, etc.). LCA may therefore not capture all environmental impacts and may not provide a complete picture of the consequences of a product or project on the environment.

  • The subjectivity of decisions: LCA is a decision-making tool, but it cannot replace human judgment. Decisions based on the results of LCA can therefore be influenced by the beliefs, values, and interests of the people who make them.

  • Some impacts are not taken into account such as nuisances (odors, noises)

Although LCA is a useful tool for evaluating the environmental impacts of a product, service, or project, it is important to take into account its limitations in order to use the results appropriately and fairly.

In conclusion

Life cycle assessment is a structured and standardized process for analyzing and reducing the environmental impact of the product or service being analyzed. LCA is a very useful tool, like the a carbon footprint, for reducing the environmental impact of businesses.


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