Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Back to Life cycle assessment methods

“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
A Methodology Concept for Territorial Metabolism – Life Cycle Assessment: Challenges and Opportunities in Scaling from Urban to Territorial Assessment Journal Article Sohn et al. 2018
LCA and BIM: Visualization of environmental potentials in building construction at early design stages Journal Article Röck et al. 2018
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
Combined MFA and LCA approach to evaluate the metabolism of service polygons: A case study on a university campus Journal Article Lopes Silva et al. 2015
Dynamic Models of Fixed Capital Stocks and Their Application in Industrial Ecology Journal Article Pauliuk et al. 2014
Enabling Future Sustainability Transitions: An Urban Metabolism Approach to Los Angeles Journal Article Pincetl et al. 2014
Island Waste Management Systems Journal Article Eckelman et al. 2014
Island Waste Management Systems: Statistics, Challenges, and Opportunities for Applied Industrial Ecology Journal Article Eckelman et al. 2014
Consumption based footprint of a city Conference Paper Worbe et al. 2013
Sustainable Urban Metabolism Book Ferrão and Fernández 2013
The importance of raw material equivalents in economy-wide material flow accounting and its policy dimension Journal Article Kovanda and Weinzettel 2013
Urban metabolism assessment tools for resource efficient urban infrastructure Report Robinson et al. 2013
Addressing sustainability in the aluminum industry: a critical review of life cycle assessments Journal Article Gang Liu and Müller 2012
An Analysis of Stocks and Flows Associated with Water Consumption in Indian Households Journal Article G. Venkatesh 2012
Assessment of Environmental Impacts of an Aging and Stagnating Water Supply Pipeline Network Journal Article Venkatesh and Brattebø 2012
Structural Decomposition Analysis of Raw Material Consumption Journal Article Weinzettel and Kovanda 2011
Assessing Socioeconomic Metabolism Through Hybrid Life Cycle Assessment Journal Article Weinzettel and Kovanda 2009
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
Environmental evaluation of localising production as a strategy for sustainable development: a case study of two consumer goods in Jamaica Journal Article Russell and Allwood 2008
Service Sector Metabolism: Accounting for Energy Impacts of the Montjuic Urban Park in Barcelona Journal Article Oliver‐Solà et al. 2007
Dematerialization: Not Just a Matter of Weight Journal Article Voet and Ester 2004
Postconsumption Sewage Treatment in Environmental Systems Analysis of Foods Journal Article Ulf Sonesson 2004
Material flow accounting and analysis: A Valuable Tool for Analyses of Society-Nature Interrelationships Document Hinterberger et al. 2003
A handbook of industrial ecology Book Ayres and Ayres 2002
Full Mode and Attribution Mode in Environmental Analysis Journal Article Helias Udo de Haes 2000
A Systems Approach to Materials Flow in Sustainable Cities: A Case Study of Paper Journal Article Leach et al. 1997
Life-Cycle Global Warming Impact of CFCs and CFC-substitutes for Refrigeration Journal Article Papasavva and Moomaw 1997
The Life-Cycle of Chlorine, Part I: Chlorine Production and the Chlorine-Mercury Connection Journal Article Ayres and Robert 1997
Data quality management for life cycle inventories—an example of using data quality indicators Journal Article Weidema and Wesnæs 1996