Life Cycle Analysis: A Key to Better Environmental Decisions

Lead Author: Dr. Jim Bowyer

Publish date: 01.18.2005

 

An environmental manager is faced with the task of identifying areas in which her company’s environmental performance can be improved, but she does not have trustworthy data with which to make an evaluation. A homebuilder committed to environmentally responsible building construction needs a way to identify construction materials and building designs that minimize environmental impacts, but finds available information to be limited, conflicting, confusing, and often based on a single attribute. A government organization wishes to mount a preferred purchasing program for all of its paper products with the intent of minimizing environmental impacts and providing environmental leadership for society at large, but is faced with pressure to focus only on recycled content.

 

As society becomes more and more interested in environmental attributes of products, those involved in all aspects of product manufacture, selection, use, maintenance and end-of-life disposal need definitive, scientifically based tools for evaluating environmental impacts and potential mitigation strategies. Environmental life cycle analysis, or LCA, has become the tool of choice for leading organizations in both the public and private sectors.

 

Sometimes referred to as “cradle to grave” analysis, LCA provides a mechanism for systematically evaluating the environmental impacts linked to a product or process and in guiding process or product improvement efforts. LCA-based information also provides insights into the environmental impacts of raw material and product choices, and maintenance and end-of-product-life strategies. Because of the systematic nature of LCA and its power as an evaluative tool, the use of LCA is increasing as environmental performance becomes more and more important in society. It is likely that LCA will soon become widely used within American industry and by those involved in crafting national and regional environmental policy.