Quantitative LCA is an excellent tool for evaluating the environmental impacts of new processes or process changes. Applied to existing products, it provides benchmark information against which new designs can be judged.
Quantitative LCAs are also valuable for evaluating the potential environmental benefits of product-stewardship, or producer responsibility, initiatives.
The results of LCA will also support any marketing claims about the environmental performance of products - and are used to prepare environmental product declarations (EPDs).EPD (environmental product declarations) carbon footprinting water footprinting
are used for a wide variety of purposes:
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All LCA studies involve four steps: establishing the goal and scope of the study, taking a life cycle inventory, conducting a life cycle impact assessment and interpreting the results to support business decisions. The various steps may be shorter or longer, according to context, but they're always present. ISO standards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 set out conventions for the conduct of these steps.
As with any project, defining the aim of an LCA study is critical to success.
Since LCA involves modelling an extended system, it's also important to understand and define that system at this early stage to focus resources and avoid misleading outcomes.
Commissioning a stand-alone scoping study focuses resources and maximises the overall value from the LCA study.
A life cycle inventory is a catalogue of substances and energy exchanged between the environment and the system defined in the scoping phase and first stage of the work.
In practice, the LCI project phase involves firstly extensive data collection for core processes in the system, then modelling of the whole system using this primary data along with secondary data from LCA databases to represent common processes like fuel production and waste treatment.
This phase involves using models of the various environmental effects of different substances to quantify the potential impacts of the inventory calculated in the previous phase. Choice of the environmental themes to cover and of the models (LCIA methods) to apply is key. A separate result is obtained for each environmental theme considered; in some cases further modelling gives a single overall score.
LCA involves modelling an extended system, and the output of any model needs careful interpretation if users are to have confidence in conclusions drawn from it. Interpretation therefore refers back to the other 3 stages to identify significant issues, check the quality of key elements and assess sources of uncertainty. This provides a solid foundation for the study's conclusions and recommendations.
LCAs and their results are extremely useful in many situations but highly technical to carry out. To ensure your project is successful and meets your objectives, follow our tips.
At EuGeos, we have carried out a wide range of LCA studies to inform a variety of decisions in business and the public-sector.
For an initial free and confidential discussion about your project:
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ISO 14044 specifies that certain LCAs should be reviewed by a third-party to confirm that they are robust and objective; EuGeos will carry out an LCA review for any type of LCA study.
Contact us to discuss your LCA and EPD projects: email or tel +44 (0)1625 434423
LCAs can be carried out with ad-hoc spreadsheets and databases, but there are several specialist software tools available on the market. At EuGeos we have used several; now all our LCA projects are prepared using openLCA.EuGeos is the official UK partner of openLCA, the open-source software for Life Cycle Assessment, footprinting, EPDs and more.