What is an LCA – Life Cycle Assessment?
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the assessment of a product system throughout the life cycle of its input and output flows, as well as its potential environmental impacts.

“Life cycle “means all the interconnected consecutive stages of a product system, from the acquisition of raw materials or the generation of natural resources to the final disposal.

What is an LCA study needed?
The LCA study identifies the phases in which the environmental critical aspects of the entire life cycle of the product/service are most concentrated.

In this way it is possible to propose improvement measures that have benefits at a general level, avoiding actions that, acting on individual phases, end up transferring the impacts from one phase to another.

The LCA is a methodology at the basis of systems and tools such as, for example:

  • environmental labels and declarations (Ecolabels, self-declarations, EPDs) standardised by ISO 14020;
  • Environmental Management Systems (EMAS, ISO 14000, POEMS);
  • Life Cycle Costing (based on the same LCA approach but using economic flows).

Reference procedures and standards
The LCA methodology is defined in all its phases by Standard, Technical Reports and Technical Specification, which outline the procedure to be followed to draw up an LCA study and to define the quality of the data used in the study so that it is clear and reproducible.

The four phases of a LCA study are the following:

1) definition of the purpose of the study and of the scope, in which the rationale, intended applications (product improvement, environmental labels, etc.) and the recipients of the study are defined.

2) creation of the data inventory, i. e. a list of all input and output material flows from the process units of which the system is composed;

3) Impact assessment, which involves selecting the evaluation method, allocating inventory results (classification), calculating the results for category indicators (characterisation);

4) interpretation of the results and related drafting of the final report, in which the completeness check, sensitivity and consistency analysis of the study, with which the options for improvement can be identified.

Support tools
There are many tools that a LCA study can use:

  1. databases, from which the data for compiling the inventory shall be drawn;
  2. evaluation methods necessary to assess the impact of the processes analysed by virtue of their associated inputs and outputs;
  3. calculation codes for conducting complete LCAs or simplified LCAs.
  4. guidelines relating to methodological issues (allocation, etc.) or related to the different sectors.

Competitive advantages
The benefits of applying an LCA are environmental, economic and commercial, in that it allows:

  • identification of environmental problems within production processes;
  • industrial use for the development and improvement of product quality through comparison with alternative scenarios (Ecodesign);
  • possible energy and material savings;
  • maintenance of certification (ISO 14001, EMAS);
  • obtaining environmental labels (Ecolabel, EPD);
  • the integration of proposals to develop environmental legislation;
  • raising consumer and business awareness of environmental issues.

The problems with the LCA methodology often lie in the lack of information in the databases when carrying out detailed studies, resulting in a waste of time and resources.

Who is it addressed to?
The LCA has proved to be a useful technical tool for companies and public administrations, but also for informing citizens.