The European Platform on Life-Cycle Assessment’s International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) handbook aims to help policy-makers assess the environmental impact of products.
Developed by the Commission's Joint Research Centre, in cooperation with DG Environment, the handbook – launched on 12 March 2010 – provides guidance on how to conduct life-cycle assessment to quantify the emissions, resource consumption and environmental impact of products.
The handbook, which consists of a series of technical documents, is designed to act as an authoritative guide to assist policy-makers and businesses. It is part of the European Commission's promotion of sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – or Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) – aims to identify possible areas where a good or service could be improved by lowering its environmental impact and reducing resource consumption throughout its life cycle.
LCA takes into account every environmental or social impact a product may have throughout its life cycle. Such assessment covers the extraction of natural resources, manufacture, distribution and use, and ends with the product's possible re-use, recycling and/or disposal.
To this end, LCA is a key component of EU policies such as the Integrated Product Policy, the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and Sustainable Industrial Policy (SIP) Action Plan and the Waste Framework Directive. Furthermore, information from LCA can also support public policy making in setting eco-design criteria, such as contributing to performance targets within the Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP).
LCA is an important tool to help public authorities assess policy options for promoting greener products such as ecolabels, green public procurement and improved waste management. It can also be used by businesses who wish to improve the environmental profile of their products and supply chains in order to gain a competitive advantage.
By considering the environmental implications of the entire supply-chain of products, their use and waste management, the goal of sustainable production and consumption can be achieved.
The development of this tool follows the Communication on the IPP (COM/2003/0302), in which the Commission committed to producing a handbook on best practice in LCA. The importance of such guidance is underlined in the SCP/SIP Action Plan, which confirms that “consistent and reliable data and methods are required to assess the overall environmental performance of products.”
LCA represents a key stepping stone on the path to sustainable growth in Europe. By providing clear and verifiable information to policy-makers, LCA can help shape sustainable consumption and production policies.