Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

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“Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is an environmental management tool for identifying (and comparing) the whole life cycle, or cradle-to-grave, environmental impacts of the creation, marketing, transport and distribution, operation, and disposal of specific human artifacts. The approach is intrinsically holistic in nature and considers direct and, ideally, related processes and hidden, nonmarket flows of raw materials and intermediate inputs, and waste and other material and energy outputs associated with the entire existence or “product chain” or “system” (Guinee et al. 1993). The LCA procedure often involves a comparison of a small number of substitutable products assumed to provide a similar consumption service.” (Daniels and Moore 2001)

This method is well-documented in the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards. The outcome of an LCA study generally provides insights into a number of different impact categories, which can for instance include climate change, acidification, eutrophication, and resource depletion. There is a significant use of LCA inside and outside of academia. There are many applications of this tool in industry, and the approach has been expanded with complementary methods like Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA), which focus on the economic and social aspects, respectively. The combination of LCA, LCC and S-LCA has been termed Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) (Kloepffer 2008).

Despite a clearly-defined guiding framework and unparalleled opportunities to understand the global impacts of material flows, LCA has not yet found wide uptake in urban metabolism assessments. Firstly, LCA faces data requirements that exceed those of other methods, and requires an understanding of production, distribution, disposal, and other operations outside of the city of study. Furthermore, a “functional unit” must be defined before being able to undertake an LCA. However, the city itself cannot be taken as a single functional unit. Instead, a particular product, material, or a service within the city should be defined as a functional unit.



Title Type Author(s) Year
The Life Cycle Assessment of an Energy-Positive Peri-Urban Residence in a Tropical Regime Journal Article Bukoski et al. 2017
Urban Metabolism for Resource-Efficient Cities: from Theory to Implementation Report Musango et al. 2017
The Efficiency of Informality: Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Reductions from Informal Recycling in Bogotá, Colombia Journal Article Vergara et al. 2016
A political-industrial ecology of water supply infrastructure for Los Angeles Journal Article Cousins and Newell 2015
Enabling Future Sustainability Transitions: An Urban Metabolism Approach to Los Angeles Journal Article Pincetl et al. 2014
Consumption based footprint of a city Conference Paper Worbe et al. 2013
Sustainable Urban Metabolism Book Ferrão and Fernández 2013
Urban metabolism assessment tools for resource efficient urban infrastructure Report Robinson et al. 2013
An expanded urban metabolism method: Toward a systems approach for assessing urban energy processes and causes Journal Article Pincetl et al. 2012
Assessment of Environmental Impacts of an Aging and Stagnating Water Supply Pipeline Network Journal Article Venkatesh and Brattebø 2012
Collaborative Problem Solving Using an Industrial Ecology Approach Journal Article Boehme et al. 2009
A Demand-Centered, Hybrid Life-Cycle Methodology for City-Scale Greenhouse Gas Inventories Journal Article Ramaswami et al. 2008
Service Sector Metabolism: Accounting for Energy Impacts of the Montjuic Urban Park in Barcelona Journal Article Oliver‐Solà et al. 2007
A Systems Approach to Materials Flow in Sustainable Cities: A Case Study of Paper Journal Article Leach et al. 1997