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:


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.