Life cycle assessment

Life cycle assessment

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is considered as the most important technique to get insight into the environmental impact related to the production, consumption and end-of-life of a product. It is used intensively by many companies, governmental institutes and NGO’s in all sectors and around the world.

Objectives for using LCA

The objectives for using LCA are diverse: from hotspot analysis to public communication of the environmental performance of a company’s product. LCA enables identification of which environmental topics are most relevant for each product and identification of trade-offs between different environmental impacts. Some examples:

Objective Example
To get insight into which are the most important sources of environmental impact (hotspot analysis) How much does transport, packaging and agrochemicals contribute to the total environmental impact? Which are the most relevant environmental issues?
To identify improvement opportunities Which sources of impact can be influenced? E.g. changing the feed composition, better manure management, alternative packaging, longer product durability, etc
To analyse the impact of possible measures What is the effect of changing feed composition on the contribution of feed production and on emissions at the livestock farm to the total impact? Are there trade-offs? E.g. when using more packaging and/or cooling to prevent losses.
To monitor environmental indicators over time Annual monitoring of the impacts of dairy production by a company.
To compare the environmental performance to a sector benchmark Calculating the impact of milk production in the Netherlands for a large number of farms and dairy companies and comparing with the average results.
To publically communicate the environmental performance of a company’s product Food producing companies reporting the environmental impact of their products in their annual sustainability report.

We offer a stepwise LCA approach

Wageningen Economic Research proposes a 6 steps approach to deliver insight into the hotspots, possible improvement opportunities and their potential impact.

We offer a variable level of detail, from an efficient quick scan to high quality LCA results. The approach is always the same. It is an iterative process, where the first 3 steps may need adjustments after getting more insights in the interpretation.

Step Activities
Step 1: Define the product Define the product value chains of the product(s) and known improvement opportunities with LCA experts, sector experts and industry partners. Prioritise the most important producing countries/regions and most promising improvement opportunities.
Step 2: Review literature Review literature on LCAs of the product
Step 3: Develop a model Develop an LCA model for the product (based on available models; see Table 4) and calculate the baseline results with secondary data in LCA software and literature, primary data when available, and expert judgement where needed. Additional primary data can be collected when needed.
Step 4: Analyse the hotspots Analyse the hotspots in the baseline results to identify the most relevant impact indicators and most sensitive input parameters. The earlier identified improvement opportunities are defined as changes in one or more input parameters.
Step 5: Calculate the improvement potential Calculate the improvement potential for each of the relevant impact indicators by adapting the input parameters.
Step 6: Present the results Present the results and discuss with experts and industry to validate the approach and learnings.