Life Cycle Assessment. Part 1: Framework, goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, and applications

Rebitzer G, Ekvall T, Fischknecht R, Hunkeler D, Norris G A, Rydberg T, Schmidt W-P, Suh S, Weidema B P, Pennington D W (2004)

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Environment International 30(5):701-720


Sustainable development requires methods and tools to measure and compare the environmental impacts of human activities for the provision of goods and services (both of which are summarized under the term “products”). Environmental impacts include those from emissions into the environment and through the consumption of resources, as well as other interventions (e.g., land use) associated with providing products that occur when extracting resources, producing materials, manufacturing the products, during consumption/use, and at the products’ end-of-life (collection/sorting, reuse, recycling, waste disposal). These emissions and consumptions contribute to a wide range of impacts, such as climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, tropospheric ozone (smog) creation, eutrophication, acidification, toxicological stress on human health and ecosystems, the depletion of resources, water use, land use, and noise—among others. A clear need, therefore, exists to be proactive and to provide complimentary insights, apart from current regulatory practices, to help reduce such impacts. Practitioners and researchers from many domains come together in life cycle assessment (LCA) to calculate indicators of the aforementioned potential environmental impacts that are linked to products—supporting the identification of opportunities for pollution prevention and reductions in resource consumption while taking the entire product life cycle into consideration. This paper, part 1 in a series of two, introduces the LCA framework and procedure, outlines how to define and model a product’s life cycle, and provides an overview of available methods and tools for tabulating and compiling associated emissions and resource consumption data in a life cycle inventory (LCI). It also discusses the application of LCA in industry and policy making. The second paper, by Pennington et al. (Environ. Int. 2003, in press), highlights the key features, summarises available approaches, and outlines the key challenges of assessing the aforementioned inventory data in terms of contributions to environmental impacts (life cycle impact assessment, LCIA).

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