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Lifecycle Assessment

To understand a product's environmental performance, its entire lifecycle, from cradle to grave, must be considered.

A lifecycle assessment (LCA) evaluates the environmental impacts associated with a product over its lifespan, from the extraction of raw materials, processing and manufacture to distribution, service, maintenance, reuse, and waste disposal or recycling. LCAs can be used to benchmark performance, enhance product design and processes, address legislative obligations and compare performance with rival materials and products.

How do you carry out an LCA?

Lifecycle Assessment (LCA)According to ISO14040, an LCA generally consists of four phases:

  1. Define the goal and scope – understanding the aims of the study and setting boundaries.
  2. Carry out a lifecycle inventory (LCI) – mapping flows of water, energy and raw materials from nature and the releases to nature.
  3. Do a lifecycle impact assessment – look at the materials and emissions in the LCI, decide how you will look at environmental impacts and work out how much each set of emissions contributes to each of the impacts. There are many methods for assessment.
  4. Interpret the results – within the scope of the study and the methodology used. This stage should also identify areas for improvement.

A cradle-to-grave LCA provides a thorough analysis of the resources used and the substances emitted throughout a product’s entire lifecycle. This allows decisions to be made based on a full assessment of a product’s impact, and also means that product development can target the phases in a product’s lifecycle where the most significant improvements can be achieved.

A partial form of a ‘cradle-to-grave’ LCA is a ‘cradle-to-gate’ assessment, which stops at the factory gate. Decisions based on these alone exclude impacts during subsequent transport, construction, maintenance, disposal and recycling.

The Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) is undertaking an LCA Tools project, and SSC sits on the advisory group. The project aims to develop an LCA plan for consideration by the NZ building sector.