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What is the best use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)? Can it be used for eco-products? Can it be used for products like phones and computers?

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Life cycle assessment (LCA) is about assessing the environmental impacts of a product, process or service over it's full life cycle, so from production, usage and disposal. This assessment includes the impact of all subcomponents/subprocesses down to the (extraction of) the natural resources.

There isn't really a single 'best use' for a LCA. LCAs are usually issued by companies but sometimes also by NGOs or governments for various reasons. Some examples why companies do this are:

  • improving the ecological footprint of a product,
  • getting a clearer picture of the main factors that are involved in producing a product,
  • saving money by using other or less resources,
  • meeting company CSR standards,
  • providing proof that a product complies with environmental or industry standards, or with government regulations,
  • providing basic LCA information to customers and promote a product or brand as being sustainable (marketing).

Theoretically you can do an LCA study for any type product as long as you are able to access or gather the necessary data. What this data exactly is depends on the goal of your study. For example, for a quick hot-spot analysis of the energy usage of product you need less detail than for an elaborate comparison between two related products.

It is possible to perform an LCA for a phone or computer, but this is far from easy because both are rather complicated objects with lots of different parts. You'd need to investigate the impacts of the production, use and disposal of all (major) parts and this will take a lot of time and effort. Additionally, if there is no existing LCA data for a particular component, you would need the cooperation of the up-stream suppliers that are involved in producing that component.

I know Samsung has performed LCAs for several of their mobile phones. There is some brief info of the results in this PDF.

If you're interested in learning more about LCA, there are some good free resources listed in the 'learn more' section of this site's tag.

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