EarthShift Global Sustainability News Articles

Understanding Life Cycle Assessment: An LCIA Overview for Executives and Practitioners

Author: Harnoor Dhaliwal and Pete Dunn

Abstract:

Corporations are increasingly applying Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) techniques in innovative ways. Once used primarily for internal evaluations of production processes, materials, and packaging, LCA is emerging as a useful tool for strategic assessments of sustainability efforts, risk management, and marketing communication.


Triple Pundit

Friday, Mar 24th, 2017 — Published Online under Corporate Responsibility

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A Look Back: The Evolution of LCA and Life Cycle Impact Assessment

Author: Harnoor Dhaliwal

Abstract:

Life cycle assessment (LCA) has emerged as an important tool for understanding the environmental footprint of products and services, with inventory analysis and life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) helping to itemize and quantify environmental impacts. 

With an increasing understanding of the environmental mechanisms as well as more and better data, we are continuing to reduce the uncertainty in the results. The ongoing intellectual investment and refinement make them powerful tools today.

Triple Pundit

Wednesday October 5, 2016 — Published Online under Corporate Responsibility

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Tradeoff Evaluation Improves Comparative Life Cycle Assessment: A Photovoltaic Case Study

Authors: Valentina Prado-Lopez, Ben A. Wender, Thomas P Seager, Lise Laurin, Mikhail Chester, Erdem Aslan


Abstract:


Current life cycle assessment (LCA) interpretation practices typically emphasize hotspot identification and improvement assessment. However, these interpretation practices fail in the context of a decision-driven comparative LCA where the goal is to select the best option from a set of dissimilar alternatives. Interpretation of comparative LCA results requires understanding of the trade-offs between alternatives—instances in which one alternative performs better or worse than another—to identify the environmental implications of a specific decision. In this case, analysis must elucidate relative trade-offs between decision alternatives, rather than absolute description of the alternatives individually. Here, typical practices fail. This article introduces a probability distribution-based approach to assess the significance of performance differences among alternatives that allows LCA practitioners to focus analyses on those aspects most influential to the decision, identify the areas that would benefit the most from data refinement given the level of uncertainty, and complement existing hotspot analyses. In a case study of a comparative LCA of five photovoltaic technologies, findings show that thin-film cadmium telluride and amorphous silicon cell panels are most likely to perform better than other alternatives. Additionally, the impact categories highlighted by the new approach are different than those highlighted by typical external normalization practices, suggesting that a decision-driven approach to interpretation would redirect environmental research efforts.

Journal of Industrial Ecology

 

Volume 20, Issue 4, August 2016, Pages 710-718, DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12292


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Tradeoff Evaluation Improves Comparative Life Cycle Assessment: A Photovoltaic Case Study: Trade-off Identification in Comparative LCA

Authors:  Valentina Prado-Lopez, Ben A. Wender, Thomas P Seager, Lise Laurin, Mikhail Chester, Erdem Arslan
 
Abstract:
 
Current life cycle assessment (LCA) interpretation practices typically emphasize hotspot identification and improvement assessment. However, these interpretation practices fail in the context of a decision-driven comparative LCA where the goal is to select the best option from a set of dissimilar alternatives. Interpretation of comparative LCA results requires understanding of the trade-offs between alternatives—instances in which one alternative performs better or worse than another—to identify the environmental implications of a specific decision. In this case, analysis must elucidate relative trade-offs between decision alternatives, rather than absolute description of the alternatives individually. Here, typical practices fail. This article introduces a probability distribution-based approach to assess the significance of performance differences among alternatives that allows LCA practitioners to focus analyses on those aspects most influential to the decision, identify the areas that would benefit the most from data refinement given the level of uncertainty, and complement existing hotspot analyses. In a case study of a comparative LCA of five photovoltaic technologies, findings show that thin-film cadmium telluride and amorphous silicon cell panels are most likely to perform better than other alternatives. Additionally, the impact categories highlighted by the new approach are different than those highlighted by typical external normalization practices, suggesting that a decision-driven approach to interpretation would redirect environmental research efforts.
 
Journal of Industrial Ecology
Volume 20, Issue 4, August 2016, Pages 710–718
 
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Life Cycle Assessment Capacity Roadmap (Section 1): Decision-making Support Using LCA

Authors:  Lise Laurin, Ben Amor, Till M. Bachmann, Jane Bare, Christoph Koffler, Serge Genest, Philipp Preiss, Jason Pierce, Barclay Satterfield, Bruce Vigon
 
Abstract:
 
When life cycle assessment (LCA) results do not show a clear and certain environmental preference of one choice over one or several alternatives, current methods are limited in their ability to inform decision-makers. To address this and related cross-cutting issues, a group of LCA practitioners has been working on a roadmap for capacity development in LCA. The roadmap is identifying common needs for development in LCA, which can then be addressed by the broader LCA community. The roadmap document on decision-making support, having undergone a public comment period, outlines the current state as well as needs and milestones to ensure progress continues apace. The roadmap document, available for download, covers five main areas of development: (1) performance measures of confidence, which identify the acceptable uncertainty for study results, while minimizing expenditures; (2) selection of impact categories, an area with multiple existing methods. The roadmap suggests codifying these methods and identifying their suitability to various applications; (3) normalization; while several methods of normalization are in use, the method with the greatest acceptance in the LCA community (i.e., relying on total or per capita regional emissions/extractions) has a number of methodological drawbacks; (4) weighting, which is a form of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). The broader MCDA field can enrich LCA by providing studied methods of assessing trade-offs; and (5) visualization of results. Many other LCA capacity needs would benefit from documentation. These include but are not limited to the following: addressing ill-characterized uncertainty, life cycle inventory data needs, data format needs, and tool capabilities. Other roadmapping groups are forming and are looking for practitioners to support the effort.
 
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
April 2016, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 443–447
 
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