What is a life cycle assessment?
In order to know the carbon intensity of a product, process or service, its life cycle assessment (LCA) needs to be conducted. This consequently measures the environmental impact of the carbon emissions associated with the creation, use, and disposal of the product. When a product is labelled carbon neutral, for instance, it is implied that a carbon focused LCA has been conducted, with emissions reductions made where possible and the remaining footprint offset.
The LCA is a methodology standardised by the International Standardization Organisation (ISO) under ISO 14040 and 14044. Accordingly, there are three ways to conduct the LCA of a product.
What types of Life Cycle Assessments are conducted?
The LCA of a product should take into account all the emissions generated throughout the lifetime of a product. Thus, it includes the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, use, and ‘end of life’ of the product.
When all of these aspects are included, the LCA is termed cradle-to-grave. Correspondingly, all emissions from the conception to the disposal of the product have been calculated.
Other types of LCAs are:
Cradle-to-gate means the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing of the product have been assessed. The end-of-life of the product has, however, not been factored in.
Gate-to-gate LCAs look at the emissions generated throughout the manufacturing process of the product. This approach does not take into consideration the extraction of raw materials, or the end-of-life of the product.
Gate-to-grave looks at the manufacturing process through to the disposal of the product, excluding the extraction of raw materials.
How is a Life Cycle Assessment conducted?
The four steps of an LCA are as follows:
- Goal and Scope
- Inventory Analysis
- Impact Assessment
Can the life cycle of a product be made more sustainable?
In the current linear economy, a product goes through the order of steps drawn out by the LCA. However, a more sustainable future involves adopting a cradle-to-cradle approach. This could fundamentally reduce the raw materials and energy that many processes and products use, and reframe what we view as ‘disposable’.
The cradle-to-cradle has its own certification system. The idea is to ensure that all materials used in the production of a product can and are reused fully in the next life cycle of the next product.
This is a part of a move towards a circular economy where we ‘close the loop’, minimising our waste, and therefore, our impact on the planet. Emphasising circularity encourages people and businesses to reduce, reuse and recycle what they consume, having the net benefit of shrinking our environmental footprint, both from a carbon and resource perspective.
How can Plannet Zero help you?
At Plannet Zero, we do not directly perform LCAs, but we are able to help you if you would like to certify your products carbon neutral. We have been accepted onto the British Standards Institute’s list of approved consultants. This gives us the authority to look over the LCA of a product, and to procure the offsets required for the product to reach carbon neutrality.
Co-authored by Elza Tessenyi