Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): A Guide to Best Practice

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The output can also be converted and expressed as CO 2 eq. The functional unit is the unit that is being studied. It can be an individual product e. LCAs for food products normally use weight of finished food products as the functional unit e. The choice of functional unit could influence comparison between foods. The choice of the functional unit should reflect the purpose of the LCA-study. For example, if the purpose is to compare the production of pork using different animal feed inputs, a relevant functional unit could be 1 kg of pork meat at the farm gate.

For another study comparing different ways of securing protein in our diet e.

Life-cycle assessment

However, as food purchases are seldom made on the basis of the nutrient content of food, a functional unit of 1 kg is often very relevant. The relative impacts of different products can change, depending on which functional unit is used. Data are collected for inputs and outputs at each stage within the scope of the LCA. Inputs might be energy, land and water use; outputs are the products and waste leaving the system at each stage.

Alternatively the data may be more generic and drawn from existing databases, which contain the average impacts arising certain types of common process. Clearly, the more specific the data the more accurate the results. Sometimes allocation is a complex process. For example, a dairy system produces not just milk but also meat male calves, dairy cows no longer lactating. Some of the overall herd emissions need to be allocated to this meat production — but on what basis?

In terms of their relative economic value?


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In terms of the calories or protein they supply as compared with the protein or calories supplied by the milk? Different studies adopt different approaches. All of the data included contributes to the final LCA results. Emissions and resource use at all stages that lie within the defined scope of the LCA need to be included because they all contribute to the environmental impact of the product or service in question. The total emissions and resource use from all life cycle stages are grouped into environmental themes or categories mid-point indicators according to the impact they cause, and are converted to common impact units.

Examples of impact categories are climate change, eutrophication potential, water use and land use. Effects that these impacts can have on humans and ecosystems may also be modelled.

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The end-point indicators are fewer in number than the mid-point indicators and therefore might be easier to interpret. However, the modelling of end-point effects is associated with great uncertainties.


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Thus, the water use for producing 1kg of bread can be shown for the whole life cycle and for each stage within that such as farming, manufacture, etc. LCA can be used to measure many different environmental impacts, just one of which is the global warming potential or greenhouse gas emissions GHG.

Other impacts include:. For example, if an intervention is designed to reduce global warming impact, but as a consequence this increases land-use requirements, then it is important to know this. These impacts can be further allocated to general impact categories related to actual physical impacts concerning human health, ecosystem quality, climate change and resource use. End-point indicators are categories of impact contributed to by often multiple mid-point indicators, representing impacts on broader issues of concern such as human health and ecosystem quality. Environmental Technology.

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