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Standards, phases and stages

Standards and phases of life cycle assessment
Decorative image
© Deakin University

Let’s now introduce the core standards for LCA, as well as its four phases.

We’ll also distinguish the LCA phases from life cycle stages.

Core standards

LCA is primarily based on the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards.

  • ISO 14040 (Principles and framework) describes LCA’s phases, reporting and review methods, limitations, and the conditions for using value choices (the lowest tier in the data collection hierarchy).
  • ISO 14044 (Requirements and guidelines) provides methodologies for applying the phases of LCA.

LCA phases

The standards set out the four phases of the LCA process.

  • Goal and scope definition: The reason for executing the study, a definition of the studied product and its life cycle and the defining of system boundaries
  • Inventory analysis: Listing all emissions released into the environment and resources extracted from the environment along the whole life cycle of the product under investigation
  • Impact assessment: Results or indicators of potential environmental and human health impacts are translated, with the help of an impact assessment method, into environmental impacts
  • Interpretation: Necessary for identifying, quantifying, checking and evaluating information from the results of the inventory analysis and/or the life cycle impact assessment

They are typically laid out like this:

Phases are Goal and scope; Inventory analysis; Impact assessment; and Interpretation. You can move between Goal and scope and Inventory analysis, and between Inventory analysis and Impact assessment. You can also move between Interpretation and any of the other phases. Icons © Getty Images

As the diagram suggests, it is common to move back and forth between the phases, but they will all be part of every LCA. We will explore them some more individually next week.

Life cycle stages

LCA phases are distinct from the production pathways of the product – the life cycle stages such as those shown below.

Simple production pathway through the following stages: Resource extraction and upstream manufacturing, Production, Use, Disposal/recycling. Between each of these stages there is a Transport stage. Icons © Getty Images

The LCA may assess some or all of the life cycle stages, depending on the system boundary and scope that’s been set for the study.

Reflect

Consider your own sector of work and select a product or service from it. Think of the production stages that it goes through and the pathways between them. Describe them in the comments.

References

International Organization for Standardization. (2006). ISO 14040:2006; Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework. ISO.

International Organization for Standardization. (2006). ISO 14044:2006; Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Requirements and guidelines. ISO.

Owsianiak, M., Bjørn, A., Laurent, A., Molin, C., Ryberg, M.W. (2018). LCA Applications. In: Hauschild, M., Rosenbaum, R., Olsen, S. (eds) Life Cycle Assessment. Springer, Cham.

© Deakin University
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Foundations of Life Cycle Assessment Practice

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