What is a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA)

Vince Evers

Vince Evers - Co-founder


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the most widely used scientific method for evaluating and quantifying the environmental impacts of materials, processes, products, services and even entire organizations. It is suitable for making comparisons, identifying hot spots, or simply to better understand the impact on the world around us. An LCA looks at the environmental impact at each stage of life, usually from cradle to grave, i.e., from the moment the raw materials are extracted from the earth (cradle) to the moment a product reaches the end of its life (grave). Roughly, the following 5 phases can be distinguished:

  1. Raw materials acquisition: Takes into account the environmental impacts created during the mining of raw materials such as gold, cobalt or iron ore, for example.

  2. Production: The production phase considers the energy required to make products, as well as the auxiliary materials that are consumed during the process.

  3. Transport & Distribution: The impacts of fuel and energy consumption during transportation are taken into account here.

  4. Use: The use of products often has an impact on the environment, for example as a result of energy consumption. Consider the use of cell phones, which need to be charged almost every day throughout their lifecycle and therefore consume a lot of electricity.

  5. End-of-Life: This phase looks at the impacts created by the disposal of the products at their end-of-life. Alternatively, the impacts of recycling into reusable materials is considered.

There are also other concepts of a product's life cycle, such as cradle-to-gate. In a cradle-to-gate study, we assess a product only until it leaves the factory gates before it is shipped to the consumer. So in such research, the use phase and End-of-Life phase are not included. This reduces the complexity of the LCA, and insights can be gained more quickly.

6 Reasons to Conduct a Life Cycle Assessment 🌍

So far we have explained the basics of Life Cycle Assessment. We have shown which concepts are distinguished with respect to the life cycle and explained the four steps that an LCA always consists of. But to conclude, we will give a brief insight into why it is interesting for many companies to conduct an LCA.

1. Understanding impact 🧠

An LCA provides clear insight into environmental impacts, according to internationally recognized methods. We publish the results of our analyses in clear reports or in interactive online dashboards. In this way, we ensure that the environmental impacts are clear and can also be communicated to the outside world.

2. Strategy📈

It helps companies with sustainable ambitions to set realistic goals in the area of sustainability, and establish efficient measures to strategically reduce environmental impacts.

3. Product development 📦

LCA helps product developers to design products with fewer negative environmental impacts by showing the environmental impacts between different materials and processes.

4. Supply chain optimization 🚚

Supply chain processes are responsible for much of the environmental impacts in many industries. Understanding upstream and downstream impacts can help supply chain managers make purchasing more sustainable.

5. Marketing 🌱

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of companies and products. Therefore, knowing and communicating the sustainability of products is crucial for marketing and sales. An LCA transparently communicates the effects of a product, service or organization, thus generating trust among stakeholders.

6. Regulation 📖

Public tenders increasingly require the disclosure of environmental impacts. An LCA can be used to substantiate sustainability claims and ensure compliance now or in the future. This can also provide a competitive advantage. In addition, there are increasing regulations on emissions and environmental impacts, so the insights from an LCA can be very helpful.

We hope with this blog we have written an accessible and insightful introduction to LCAs. If you still have questions left after reading the blog, don't hesitate to contact us, we won't shy away from any question! Next month we'll dive a little deeper into the theory, and in a new blog we'll elaborate on the different standards and guidelines that exist for performing LCAs. Hope to see you then!