What is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

Definition, goals & methodology

Life Cycle Assessment – in simple terms:

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA or Life Cycle Analysis) is a method to calculate the environmental impact of a product over its entire life cycle. In this context, the term 'product' also includes services.

Taking the entire product life cycle into consideration – from resource extraction to production, use, and disposal – guarantees an integrated evaluation of all inputs and outputs, thus making sure negative environmental impacts aren't shifted to other life cycle phases of the product.

The methodology is defined in the ISO 14040/14044 standard.

➠ Through an LCA you increase the sustainability of your products!

Life Cycle Assessment definition

Life Cycle Assessment methodolgy

Goals of an LCA:

Life cycle assessments of products pursue various objectives:

  • Acquisition of environmental information & integration of ecological knowledge
  • Identification of optimization potentials of the environmental performance
  • Reduction of environmental impacts
  • Combining economic and environmental advantages

➠ This eco-efficiency makes real sustainability possible!

Setup of an LCA:

An LCA is carried out in accordance with the standards ISO 14040/14044 in 4 steps:

  • Definition of objectives, system boundaries and scopes: which products are analyzed and compared under which conditions?
  • Life Cycle Inventory: which material and energy flows occur during the life cycle of the product?
  • Impact assessment:  How are the results of the Life Cycle Inventory assessed with regard to their environmental impacts?
  • Interpretation: How are the results of the Life Cycle Inventory and impact assessment interpreted?
Life Cycle Assessment Phases

LCA phases:

A holistic LCA considers the entire life cycle of a product. This is roughly divided into the following 5 main phases or stages:

  • Raw material
  • Manufacture
  • Distribution
  • Consumer use
  • Disposal/recycling

So in addition to production, further upstream and downstream process steps are evaluated.

Life Cycle Assessment environmental impacts

What environmental impacts are considered?

In general, all relevant potential harmful effects on soil, air and water must be taken into account through the use of resources on the one hand and the emission of pollutants on the other.

The ISO 14044 standard describes a large number of possible environmental impacts. The best known are:

  • Global warming potential / Carbon Footprint (GWP)
  • Acidification potential (AP)
  • Eutrophication potential (EP)
  • Human toxicity

Data for Life Cycle Assessments:

A large part of the effort for an LCA involves researching suitable data. For the production phase, the primary data to be used should be the company's own primary data. However, environmental data, especially for upstream and downstream processes, are very difficult to collect. Therefore, secondary data are used for these cases:

  • LCI databases: contain Life Cycle Inventory data of a product or component and the material, energy and emission flows it contains.
  • LCA databases: contains environmental data and methods for assessing the environmental impact of a product.

Find out more about LCA databases that are frequently used.

We support you in producing your products even more sustainably!

LCA Software Umberto LCA+

Using our Umberto LCA+ software, you can create clearly and transparently life cycle assessments of your products. With integrated cost accounting - partial and full cost accounting as well as material flow cost accounting (MFCA) - you not only increase the sustainability but also the efficiency of your production system. To Umberto LCA+

To Umberto LCA+
LCA Consulting

Alternatively, our team of experts of LCA consultants and environmental engineers is at your disposal. We are happy to support you individually step by step up to the complete analysis of the environmental impacts of your products. To the consulting team of the Institute of Environmental IT

To the consulting team of the Institute of Environmental IT

Do you have further questions about the environmental impact of your products?

Then get in touch with us. We look forward to talking to you about creating sustainable production.

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