Life Cycle Assessment | LCA
What is a Life Cycle Assessment | LCA?
A life cycle assessment (LCA) for construction products is a method of evaluating the environmental impact of a product or material over its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction and production to transportation, use, and disposal or recycling. The goal of an LCA is to identify the environmental “hot spots” in the life cycle of a product, so that measures can be taken to reduce those impacts.
In practice, an LCA for a construction product typically involves the following steps:
- Goal and scope definition: The purpose and boundaries of the study are defined, including the functional unit (i.e., the unit of measure for the product or material being evaluated), the system boundaries (i.e., the stages of the life cycle that will be included in the assessment), and the impact categories (e.g., global warming, acidification, eutrophication) that will be considered.
- Life cycle inventory (LCI) analysis: Data is collected on the inputs (e.g., raw materials, energy) and outputs (e.g., emissions, waste) of each stage of the life cycle. This data is used to calculate the environmental impact of the product or material in terms of the selected impact categories.
- Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA): The LCI data is analyzed to assess the relative importance of the different impact categories, based on characterization factors that convert the data into a common unit (e.g., CO2 equivalents).
- Interpretation and conclusions: The results of the LCIA are used to identify the environmental hotspots in the life cycle of the product or material, and to evaluate the potential for reducing those impacts through changes in design or manufacturing processes.
LCA can be a complex and resource-intensive process, but is a powerful tool to help manufacturers, designers and policy makers in their efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of construction products.