What is Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)?
Life cycle analysis is an assessment method used to identify, report and manage the environmental impacts of a product or service at every stage of its life cycle, starting from raw material procurement, production, shipment, use and waste disposal after use.
Used in complex decision-making processes, life cycle analysis is an analytical-based and inclusive method that takes into account components such as the use of natural resources and causing environmental problems as well as parameters such as cost, performance, etc. in the development process of a product, process, investment, project or strategy (Demirer, 2011).
The most important feature that distinguishes the method from traditional environmental impact assessment tools is that it addresses all environmental impacts of a product or service from cradle to grave without focusing on a specific facility, activity or process. The assessed impacts are calculated over a wide set of parameters ranging from global to local level. Global warming, depletion of natural resources, increase in ultraviolet radiation, acidification of aquatic environments, depletion of surface and groundwater resources, increase in morbidity and mortality rates, reduction in fisheries are some of them. The most important difficulties encountered are the need for a lot of data and the costly and lengthy design process (Çokaygil, 2005).
Where to use the LCA?
Life cycle analysis is widely used in the design, improvement, optimization and certification of products and processes. New product and process design, selection among similar products, product and process development, eco-labeling and similar product conformity declarations and green purchasing can be given as some application areas. In addition, it is preferred in business development strategies and the development of public policies for production and consumption.
After the energy crisis of the 70s, systems developed to determine the energy required for the production of a product and to measure the impact of this product on the consumption of energy resources constitute the basis of life cycle analysis. In subsequent years, the analysis has been extended to include the use of other natural resources and the impact of waste generated. The widespread use of different methods for measuring environmental impacts and the different results of each method have created a need for standardization in this field. SETAC (Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry), an international platform organization consisting of academia, private sector and government representatives, has carried out studies to develop life cycle analysis as a scientific method. When the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published the ISO 14040 standard on the technical and organizational structure of life cycle analysis in 1994, life cycle analysis became an internationally accepted methodology (UNEP, 1996; Çokaygil, 2005).
Four Stages of Life Cycle Analysis
The methodology of life cycle analysis consists of four stages. In the first stage, the scope, boundaries and level of detail of the analysis are decided. The system to be studied, the types of impacts to be considered, data needs, software to be used and reporting formats are determined at this stage. In the second stage, the energy, water, other raw materials and wastes used in the product or service delivery process are inventoried. The third stage involves the assessment of potential impacts on environmental values and human health in relation to inputs and outputs. The ISO 14002 Life Cycle Impact Assessment standard specifies how this assessment should be carried out. Accordingly, impact categories are first identified, inventory inputs and outputs are separated according to the selected impact categories, and then environmental impacts are grouped according to impact categories in the light of the data. In this process where a lot of data is analyzed, computer software is generally used to ensure data security and to save time and manpower. In the final stage of the analysis, the results are systematically and comparatively evaluated and presented to decision makers (Demirel, Öztürk & Kitiş, 2017).
Demirer, G.N. (2011). “Life Cycle Analysis”. Sustainable Production and Consumption Publications, Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, Ankara.
Çokaygil, Z. (2005). “Life Cycle Analysis in Waste Management Planning”. Anadolu University Institute of Science and Technology, Master’s Thesis, 34-65.
Demirel, Y.E., Öztürk, E., Kitiş, M. (2017). “Life Cycle Analysis and Industrial Application Examples”.
UNEP (1996). “Life Cycle Assessment, What is It, How To Do?”, United Nations Environment Programme, Industry and Environment Publications.