Life-cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life-cycle analysis, ecobalance, and cradle-to-cradle analysis) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from-cradle-to-cradle (i.e., from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling).
LCAs conducted for product improvement can reveal processes, components, ingredients, and systems to target for environmental improvement. It can be applied to: - identify processes, ingredients, and systems that are major contributors to environmental impacts, - compare different options within a particular process with the objective of minimising environmental impacts, - provide guidance in long-term strategic planning concerning trends in product design and materials.
Process of tool application There are three main steps in a life-cycle assessment:
1) Life-cycle inventory: Determine the emissions that occur and the raw materials and energy that are used during the life-cycle of a product.
2) Life-cycle impact assessment: Assess what the impacts of these emissions and raw material depletions are.
3) Improvement/mitigation analysis: Interpret the results of the impact assessment in order to suggest improvements. When LCA is conducted to compare products this step may consist of recommending the most environmentally desirable product.
Benefits LCAs can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:
Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases; - Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decisions
Examples The results of an example of an LCA conducted for product improvement consider: This energy inventory of the life cycle of a polyester component showed that the majority of energy consumption in the life-cycle (82%) occurred during the product fabrication life-cycle stage, while ~18% occurred during its maintenance. This implies that more emissions friendly production methods should be employed.