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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
What is Life Cycle Assessment?
It is a methodology to quantify the environmental impacts associated with a product or service in a comprehensive manner. LCA collects and evaluates the inputs and outputs of the product system and its potential environmental impacts throughout the life cycle.
What is the LCA methodology?
Based on ISO 14040 and 14044, the methodology consists of 4 steps:
1. Definition of objectives and scope: The objectives that motivate the study are specified, as well as the limits of the system to be analyzed and identify the components of the life cycle (e.g. extraction, transport, storage, production, consumption, recycling, final disposal of waste, etc.). The delimitation of the system to be analyzed is linked to the LCA objectives and the nature of the system's base product or service. Thus, there are three commonly used delimitations.
a) Cradle to gate: It refers to the analysis of the environmental impacts of a product or service from the moment it is produced until the moment it leaves the warehouse or enters the store. This scope is especially relevant for products that have a minimal impact during their use or consumption, such as most agricultural products, and services.
b) Cradle to grave: It refers to the analysis of the environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to its disposal or recycling, including transportation, production, use, and end-of-life management.
c) Cradle to cradle: It refers to the analysis of the environmental impacts of a product or service from the moment it is produced (including the extraction of materials) to the recycling and reuse of all its components.
This type of analysis is suitable for products that incorporate a regenerative or circular design based on biomimicry, where a product is designed in such a way that when it reaches the end of its useful life, its materials and components can be reused or recycled indefinitely, thereby reducing its environmental impact and making it circular.
2. Life Cycle Inventory (LCI): All inputs (consumption of resources and materials) and outputs (emissions to the air, soil, water, and waste generation) that may cause an impact during the life cycle of a product are identified and quantified in detail. This type of analysis can be extremely complex and may involve numerous individual unit processes in a supply chain (e.g., raw material extraction, various primary and secondary production processes, transportation, etc.), as well as hundreds or thousands of substances being tracked.
The data collected during this phase serves as the basis for evaluating the life cycle impacts of the product.
3. Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA): All inputs (resource and material consumption) and outputs (emissions to air, soil, water, and waste generation) that may cause an impact during the life cycle of a product are identified and quantified in detail.
Other variables in LCIA include the system boundary (how far upstream, downstream, and sideways the analysis goes), functional unit (what is the volume/mass/purpose of the object being evaluated), and specific LCIA methods such as allocation (how impacts are assigned to the product and subproducts, on what basis). When comparing two LCA studies, these factors are essential to understand if the comparison is apples to apples.
4. Interpretation of results: Based on the objectives and scope established, conclusions and recommendations are drawn that allow for decision-making to improve the product or service (the reduction of its environmental impacts). For example, changing a process, material, or supplier. Sometimes, this may involve a dynamic process of reviewing and updating the scope, as well as the nature and quality of the data collected to ensure they are consistent with the objective and scope.
Environmental impact categories
Based on ISO 14040 and 14044, 9 environmental impact categories are associated:
Global warming potential due to the emission of greenhouse gases.
Acidification due to the emission of atmospheric pollutants such as sulfur (S), nitrogen (NOx) or ammonia.
Eutrophication potential. Indicator of the enrichment of freshwater ecosystems with nutrients, due to emissions and discharges of compounds with nitrogen and phosphorus.
Land use. Measurement of changes in soil quality (biotic production, resistance to erosion, mechanical filtration).
Emissions of particulate matter. Indicator of the potential incidence of diseases due to emissions of particulate matter.
Depletion of abiotic resources: fossil fuels.
Formation of photochemical oxidants.
Depletion of the ozone layer.
Why do I need the Life Cycle Assessment?
LCA aims to obtain key and specific information associated with the production of goods or services and presents the following benefits:
- Increase the capacity of development and improvement of products.
- Strategic planning: optimization of processes and reduction of risks associated with competitiveness with similar products.
- Marketing and advertising: improves the image of the brand.
- Access to international markets and compliance with current and future environmental regulations.
- Positioning before the sector in which it competes.
- Entry into differential market niches: possibility of expanding the market.
- Selection of specific environmental performance indicators for each product or service.
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