Critical reviews of LCAs
Credibility is key to communicating the results of a life cycle assessment. Therefore, the ISO 14040 standard requires critical reviews to be performed on all life cycle assessments supporting a comparative assertion disclosed to the public.
Critical reviews are often performed even for LCAs that are not published. Below are a few examples of our public work:
- September 2021
The aim was to perform a critical review of the study “Climate Footprint Analysis of Straw Pyrolysis & Straw Biogas”. The review included several rounds of written feedback and virtual meetings.
Ongoing reviews of datasets developed for the ecoinvent database.
- August 2018
The LCA study was commissioned by Procter & Gamble and compared two commercial hand dish detergents used in Sweden. We took part in a critical review in accordance with ISO 14040/44.
- March 2018
We performed a critical review of 73 textile Life Cycle Inventories (LCI) from the French environmental labelling database: Base IMPACTS®.
- December 2017
Peer review of the Danish EPA project: “Miljø‑ og samfundsøkonomisk vurdering af øget genanvendelse af husholdningsaffald".
- November 2017
We chaired a critical review panel for an LCA study on PVC films consumed in Mexico, commissioned by the Mexican Chemical Manufacturers Association (ANIQ) and performed by CADIS.
- July 2016
We conducted a critical review of the carbon footprint study commissioned by REC Solar and carried out by Deloitte & Touche Enterprise Risk Services Pte. Ltd. South East Asia.
- February 2015
We performed critical review of the report: “Cradle‑to‑Gate Global Warming Potential impacts of Elkem Solar Silicon, Norway”
- November 2014
Four LCA studies that compare the environmental impact of printed communication relative to an alternative electronic communication were reviewed. The critical review also focused on pointing out issues that need to be covered in order to perform a suitable comparable study of the two communication methods.
- September 2013
This critical review is carried out in accordance with ISO 14040/44 as the study is a third party report and the results are intended to be used to support a comparative assertion intended to be disclosed to the public.
- November 2011
A critical review of the tool and accompanying report to improve the accuracy, relevance and usefulness of the PalmGHG Calculator: The RSPO greenhouse gas calculator for oil palm products.
- August 2011
We performed critical reviews on demand for various product groups for the TSC Product Category LCA reports.
- June 2010
The aim of the review was to ascertain that the study was conducted in accordance with the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards and assesses the overall quality of the report.
What is a critical review?
“Critical review” is the ISO 14040-terminology for a peer review. Traditionally, peer reviews are known from the international scientific journals, where submitted articles are subjected to critical scrutiny by anonymous colleagues (peers) before being accepted for publication – often after considerable adjustments. Since it is difficult to determine objective criteria for scientific quality, the subjective – but professional – judgement of peers becomes the ultimate quality assurance for scientific work.
What life cycle assessments have in common with scientific work, is the difficulty of establishing objective quality criteria. Many of the judgements made in the course of a life cycle assessment cannot be said to be true or false, but only more or less justifiable. Therefore, the ultimate quality judgement can only be subjective – although based on professional experience.
How to perform a critical review?
A critical review may be a simple peer review of the final report, or it may be a more integrated quality assurance involving typically three review steps: After the scope definition, after the data collection, and after the conclusion is made. The advantage of this interactive procedure is that problems can be corrected at an early stage, before resources are expended on work which later turns out to be inadequate. An interactive review should not be more expensive than a post-study review – on the contrary: It is less time consuming to guide a study onto the right track from its beginning, than to figure out how a complicated result has been influenced by dubious assumptions, or to reconstruct a missing calculation, once the study is finished.
For details on the procedure, see our publication “Guidelines for critical review of product life cycle assessments“. We also contributed to the ISO 14071 on Critical review processes and reviewer competencies.
See also our suggestion for reducing the costs of panel reviews for organisations that perform a large number of reviews in the publication: Radically reducing the costs of panel critical reviews according to ISO 14040.