If the complexity of real, socio-economic systems is acknowledged, life cycle inventory analysis (LCI) in life cycle assessment (LCA) cannot be considered as unambiguous, objective, and as an exclusively data and science based attribution of material and energy flows to a product. The paper thus suggests a set of criteria for LCI derived from different scientific disciplines, practice of product design and modelling characteristics of LCI and LCA. A product system with its respective LCI supporting the process of effective and efficient decision-making should ideally be: a) complete, operational, decomposable, non-redundant, minimal, and comparable; b) efficient, i.e., as simple, manageable, transparent, cheap, quick, but still as ‘adequate’ as possible under a functionalistic perspective which takes given economic constraints, material and market characteristics, and the goal and scope of the study into account; c) actor-based when reflecting the decision-makers’ action space, risk-level, values, and knowledge (i.e. mental model) in view of the management rules of sustainable development; d) as site- and case-specific as possible, i.e. uses as much site-specific information as possible. This rationale stresses the significance of considering both (i) material and energy flows within the technosphere with regard to the sustainable management rules; (ii) environmental consequences of the environmental interventions on ecosphere. Further, the marginal cost of collecting and computing more and better information about environmental impacts must not exceed the marginal benefits of information for the natural environment. The ratio of environmental benefits to the economic cost of the tool must be efficient compared to other investment options. As a conclusion, in comparative LCAs, the application of equal allocation procedures does not lead to LCA-results on which products made from different materials can be compared in an adequate way. Each product and material must be modelled according to its specific material and market characteristics as well as to its particular management rules for their sustainable use. A generic LCA-methodology including preferences on methodological options is not definable.
Ambiguities in Decision-oriented Life Cycle Inventories. (2005). Ambiguities in Decision-oriented Life Cycle Inventories. Springer-Verlag. https://doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-3254-4