Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the calculation and evaluation of the environmentally relevant inputs and outputs and the potential environmental impacts of the life cycle of a product, material or service. The life cycle consists of the technical system of processes and transport routes used at, or needed for, raw materials extraction, production, use and after use (waste management or recycling). LCA is sometimes called a "cradle-to-grave" assessment. The users of LCAs include: * industry and other commercial enterprises; * national governments and local, national and intergovernmental regulatory bodies; * NGOs (consumer organisations and environmental groups); and * consumers (which includes governments as consumers). LCA approaches are generally guided by standards but a professional code of practice has also been developed. LCA generally has four components: (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) goal and scope; inventory; impact assessment; and improvement assessment. There are three different types of LCA. They are: i) Conceptual LCA – Life Cycle Thinking, ii) Simplified LCA; and iii) Detailed LCA. The different types can be used in different ways and have strengths and weaknesses, depending upon the context in which they are used. LCAs are currently used by many companies, to provide them with the information they need to respond to market demands, legislative pressures and to explore improved product development and design. Sustainable development, the “Triple Bottom Line”, and an increased focus upon high standards in corporate governance and transparency are placing new demands on companies to include the social and ethical dimensions into LCA. It would seem that the further maturing of LCA will require a wider involvement of stakeholders to try and “fill the gaps” in the social and ethical dimensions. The challenges for LCA are: * absence of a perceived need for LCA; * scarcity of LCA expertise; * access to high quality data; and * incorrect perception of the applications of LCA in relation to other tools.
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. (2004). Life Cycle Assessment, Integrated Environmental Management, Information Series 9 (Vol. 9, p. 18).