Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a methodological tool used to quantitatively analyse the life cycle of products/activities within the context of environmental impact. For this purpose specific calculation tools are being applied. In LCA, the total life cycle of a product or activity is considered; from the extraction of resource materials onto the waste and waste treatment stage, also referred to as from cradle to grave.
LCA comprises a number of steps. De most important ones are:
- LCI – life cycle inventory. In this step, information on the use of resource materials and energy that are used within the life cycle, as well as the emission of (harmful) substances throughout the life cycle, is being collected.
- LCIA - life cycle impact assessment. In this step, the inventory data (Life Cycle Inventory results) are judged. Based on the LCIA a picture on the environmental impact caused by the product or activity is created.
The result of a LCA-study is an environmental profile of a product or activity: a ‘score list’ with environmental effects. The environmental profile shows the largest environmental problems caused by a product, and at which stage(s) in the life cycle these problems are caused. In this way, LCA contributes to the possible definition of management changes for improving the environmental friendliness of a product. Also, the consequences of different alternatives can be showed.