Life cycle assessment

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a standardized and internationally recognized methodology to assess the potential environmental impacts of a product or service over its entire life cycle “from cradle-to-grave”. LCA is a multicriteria approach addressing a wide range of impact categories such as climate change, ecotoxicity, eutrophication… etc, thus going beyond a monocriteria carbon footprint for example.

LCA key features:

  • a holistic approach quantifying many environmental impacts, making visible possible transfers of pollution between different technologies/scenario fulfilling the same function,
  • considers the whole life cycle of the product, allowing the identification of environmental hot spots,
  • a functional approach allowing for a more powerful eco-design regarding the service provided,
  • a characterisation of impacts that is based on scientific modelling of environmental mechanisms,
  • based on an international consensus and a large community of experts and scientists,
  • supported by operational tools and databases
Four steps of the LCA methodology with simplified substances inventory and impact categories
Figure: Four steps of the LCA methodology with simplified substances inventory and impact categories:
1. the goal and scope definition,
2. the inventory analysis,
3.the environmental impact assessment, and
4. the interpretation that should be performed at each of the three previous steps. Arrows between the different steps show that LCA is an iterative process (Payen 2015).

See also

  • Jolliet O, Saade-Sbeih M, Shaked S, Jolliet A, Crettaz P. (2015) Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (1st ed.). CRC Press. (Open access)
  • Book series: LCA Compendium – The Complete World of Life Cycle Assessment
  • Basset-Mens C, Avadi A, Bessou C, Acosta-Alba I, Biard Y, Payen S. (2021) Life Cycle Assessment of agri-food systems. An operational guide dedicated to emerging and developing economies (Open access)

Modification date : 14 April 2023 | Publication date : 29 January 2021 | Redactor : MEANS