Life Cycle Analysis: Everything You Need to Know

Life Cycle Analysis: Everything You Need to Know

LCA looks at the environmental impact of a product or system over its whole life span, from raw materials acquisition to production to use and end-of-life disposal. This can be done for entire systems like a car engine or products like paper bags.

LCA can be used in many different ways to help companies become more sustainable. It can be used to identify eco-friendly potential within a design process (eco-design) or for strategic planning or marketing purposes.

Life Cycle Analysis: What is it?

LCA is a quantitative method for assessing the environmental impacts of products, services or materials. There are several different types of LCA, but they all do the same thing – they evaluate the impact a product has on the environment throughout its entire life cycle.

There are many reasons why companies should carry out an LCA. Some governments require them to do so in order to take part in public tenders for road-building projects, for example. Others use it as a tool to improve existing products, finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint or even create new products that are more sustainable from the ground up.

To conduct an LCA, you must first define the functional unit that you are interested in. This should reflect the purpose and function of the product – this will help you ensure that the comparison is fair and meaningful find out more here.

LCAs and the Life Cycle Approach

The first step of any LCA is to define its goal and scope. This is where you determine why you’re doing it – to compare the impact of different products, for instance, or to assess your manufacturing processes to see how they can be improved (a process called eco-design).

Once you’ve defined your objective, you need to collect data. This is known as the life cycle inventory, or LCI. It’s the straight-forward record of everything that goes into and out of your product system – the raw materials, energy, water, waste streams and emissions from it. This data is collected from bills of materials, recipes and PLM software, meter readings, procurement records, supplier surveys and equipment specifications. Depending on the complexity of the analysis, you may need to create an inventory for dozens of unit processes and hundreds of tracked substances. This is the most complex part of an LCA.

The Multi-Criteria Approach of LCA

LCAs take into account a “cradle-to-grave” perspective on environmental impacts, from the raw materials used to make a product to its final disposal. It is increasingly common for government procurement guidelines and consumer markets to require companies to provide the environmental impact of new products or even existing ones.

However, a full-fledged LCA can be time consuming and expensive. The goal and scope of the analysis should be carefully defined to narrow down the scope of data to be collected. This is done by identifying the functional unit of the study, taking into consideration criteria like:

This will help to ensure that results from the LCA are meaningful and align with your company’s sustainability strategy. It will also help to reduce the number of assumptions and estimates that are made. Using the information gathered from the LCA, you can look for improvements in your supply chain and make greener decisions.

What are LCA Software Packages?

Various software packages are available for conducting an LCA. Some of these are specialized in specific industries or types of products and others are more general and can be used for all kinds of projects and product development.

For example, ecodesign Studio from e-invent is a software solution adapted for deploying life cycle thinking in companies of all sizes. It allows users to model the life cycle of a product and compare it with other alternatives in terms of environmental impact.

Another software solution for LCA is Ecochain Mobius, which is used by businesses and organizations to improve their sustainability performance and meet regulatory compliance requirements. It enables the creation of an LCA report at the push of a button and has a built-in library with environmental data to support a range of industries and applications. It also has a standardized interface and automation tools.

What are the Stages of a Life Cycle Analysis?

The LCA methodology involves four interdependent stages: identifying objectives, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and normalisation.

In the inventory analysis phase, data is collected regarding the energy and material inputs into a product system (e.g. consumed raw materials, electricity and other physical inputs) and the resulting outputs from the system to the environment (e.g. emissions to air, water and soil). This data is quantified on a functional unit basis.

Typically, this step uses a mix of activity-based and emission factors to quantify the energy and material flows within the system. This inventory serves as the basis for the subsequent impact assessment stage. Here, potential impact indicators are compiled and their importance assessed by normalisation and weighting. This information is used to identify opportunities for process improvement. The goal of this phase is to identify if and how energy and material consumption and/or emissions could be reduced.

Aside from being a valuable tool for environmental policymakers, LCA can help companies get a real handle on their carbon footprint. It can identify what products, processes and materials are the most polluting and where energy or material savings could be made, whether that’s R&D departments comparing new products to existing ones, or procurement managers evaluating suppliers for their ability to comply with government green regulations.

Using an LCA is also a way to demonstrate that a company takes environmental stewardship seriously. While the process can be time consuming and costly, with standardized software, access to comprehensive databases like Ecoinvent, and a consultant to manage the analysis, it can be well worth the investment. It’s important to remember that the goals and scope of your LCA study can be adjusted, depending on your business needs at the time. LCA is an iterative process, meaning you’ll learn as you go and refine your methodology.

What is Greenly?

Greenly is software as a service that lets companies track their carbon footprint, measure and reduce it, and contribute to climate projects. Its mission is to simplify carbon accounting so that SMEs and individuals can easily take action against climate change.

The company has built a technology that makes it easier for businesses to calculate their footprint by automatically syncing data from their business banking accounts. This means they can start by measuring their own HQ carbon emissions and then move on to looking at what’s happening upstream and downstream from them, such as how much energy is used by their suppliers.

To do so, greenly uses an algorithm that takes into account everything from electricity to travel costs and even the size of their building. It then estimates how much CO2 is emitted for each of their individual transactions and expenditures, such as staff commuting or the amount of cloud data they use. This information is then fed into a calculation model that gives each user a score and some insights, so they can work on changing their spending habits.

Those changes are then tracked over time so users can see the impact of their work. Greenly also helps them set targets and then track their progress towards meeting those goals. They can even get support from a dedicated advisor to help them along the way.

Greenly competes with other software tools that help people track their emissions, such as Sweep and Persefoni, but it differentiates itself by focusing on SMEs and integrating with their existing accounting systems and other software platforms, such as e-commerce or cloud services. The company has raised $23M to date from investors including Energy Impact Partners and XAnge.

The Go-To Carbon Accounting Platform for Your Business

Life Cycle Analysis, often shortened to LCA, is a key tool when it comes unpacking the environmental impact of any product or service. LCA takes into account every step of a product’s existence, from its initial design phase to production and sale, all the way to the moment it’s either thrown away or recycled.

An LCA starts with creating an inventory of flows into and out of a product system. Input flows typically refer to raw materials and energy requirements while output flows refer to pollutants and waste.

A specialized database is then used to quantify these flows and identify all potential environmental impacts. This is where the real magic of an LCA happens. A wide range of impact categories, category indicators and chemical-physical models are utilized to calculate the possible environmental consequences of each flow in a given scenario.

Once all of the impacts have been analyzed, the results are compared to a reference scenario, determining which ones will have the greatest positive or negative impact on the environment. The resulting score is then converted into a monetary value that can be used to compare the product’s performance to other products and services.

An LCA can be used to enhance a company’s green product or service offerings, make sustainability marketing claims and meet regulatory and reporting requirements like BREEAM and LEED v4. It’s also a critical component of any corporate carbon reduction program.

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