Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment

This section will focus on life cycle assessment (LCA) as currently existing and on life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) as a direction in which LCA is likely to develop. This section is intended for those working in the field of LCA and LCSA, for those interested in promoting life-cycle thinking, and also for those interested in bringing various life-cycle based tools together and linking them to appropriate questions and applications. We believe the section will provide a platform for IE scholars already working in this field and may draw new perspectives and scholars to the field of IE.

Environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) has developed quickly over the last three decades. Beginning as merely energy analysis and expanding to a comprehensive environmental burden analysis in the 1970s, full-fledged life cycle impact assessment and life cycle costing (LCC) models were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, and social-LCA and particularly consequential LCA gained ground in the first decade of the 21st century. Many of the more recent developments have been initiated to broaden traditional environmental LCA to a more comprehensive Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA; cf. Guinée et al., LCA is evolving into LCSA, which is a trans-disciplinary framework for integration of models rather than a model in itself. LCSA works with a plethora of disciplinary models and guides selection of the most appropriate to address any specific sustainability question. The main challenge is structuring, selecting, and making the diversity of disciplinary models available for practical application to all types of life cycle sustainability questions. Within this broader view, traditional environmental LCA still has its value fulfilling one specific requirement of this broader life-cycle sustainability framework.

This IE section offers a platform for discussing methodology proposals and case studies addressing the broadening and deepening of LCA into LCSA, addressing topics such as:

  • Developing Methods
    • Improving and developing traditional environmental LCA;
    • Aligning and integrating environmental LCA with LCC and LCSA;
    • Linking LCA methods to developments in Eco-Efficiency, Eco-Innovation, and other tools like Material Flow Analysis (MFA);
    • Incorporating forecast modeling into life-cycle based approaches to make predictive or anticipatory assessments;
  • Expanding the Use of LCSA
    • Providing LC(S)A resources for young researchers and ISIE members interested in using LC(S)A;
    • Improving LC(S)A methods so they can be more effective in informing and guiding the overall sustainable development of society;
    • Developing guidance and educational materials for those interested in utilizing LC(S)A, so they understand life-cycle based approaches and tools, know when and where to apply which tools, and know how to apply to different levels of analysis, from products, to companies, sectors and societies;
    • Promoting the existence and use of LC(S)A to the general public, including in evidence-based policy and regulatory decisions;

From these topics it is likely that this section will make cross-links between sections, such as with the IE sections on Material Flow Analysis (MFA), Environmentally Extended Input Output (EEIO) and the upcoming section on SCP. Moreover, owing to the multi-disciplinarity of the issue, we will strive to attract new scholars to the field of IE, for example, social science scholars. We would also like to explore the possibilities for joint PhD colloquia for engineering/environmental science research students and social science research students.