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European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

In its Communication on Integrated Product Policy (COM (2003)302), the European Commission concluded that Life Cycle Assessments provide the best framework for assessing the potential environmental impacts of products currently available. In the document, the need for more consistent data and consensus LCA methodologies was underlined. It was therefore announced that the Commission will provide a platform to facilitate communication and exchanges on life-cycle data and launch a co-ordination initiative involving both ongoing data collection efforts in the EU and existing harmonisation initiatives.

The debate is ongoing about good practice in LCA use and interpretation. The Commission intends to further this debate through a series of studies and workshops with the aim of producing a handbook on best practice, based on the best possible consensus attainable among stakeholders.

The European Commission’s project The European Platform of Life Cycle Assessment intends to address the above. The objective is to promote life cycle thinking in business and in policy making in the European Union by focusing on underlying data and methodological needs. The Platform is planned to provide quality assured, life cycle based information on core products and services as well as consensus methodologies.

The project started in mid-2005 and is initially planned to run until mid-2008. It is a joint project between DG Environment and the Commission’s Directorate-General Joint Research Centre (JRC-IES).

For further detailed information and contact addresses, please visit JRC-IES’s website: http://eplca.jrc.ec.europa.eu/.


Use of LCA in business and policy making.

Many business associations and companies in industry already use the life-cycle approach in the framework of sustainability. LCAs have been used increasingly by industry to help reduce the overall environmental burdens across the whole life cycle of goods and services. LCA is also used to improve the competitiveness of the company’s products and in communication with governmental bodies. LCA is used in decision making as a tool to improve product design, for example the choice of materials, the selection of technologies, specific design criteria and when considering recycling. LCA allows benchmarking of product system options and can therefore also be used in decision making of purchasing and technology investments, innovation systems, etc. The benefit of LCA is that it provides a single tool that is able to provide insights into upstream and downstream trade-offs associated with environmental pressures, human health, and the consumption of resources. These macro-scale insights compliment other social, economic, and environmental assessments.

The public sector equally makes use of life cycle thinking in stakeholder consultations and in policy implementation. This ensures that the big picture is taken into account in policy-orientated environmental assessments, considering upstream and downstream trade-offs. LCA is a good tool for this and contributes to efficient product policy by providing additional valuable information on environmental performance of goods and services. LCA can contribute to the analysis of the environmental performance of production and consumption patterns on various levels.

For example, it can be one of the tools to apply life cycle thinking in the implementation of the EU’s thematic strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/natres/index.htm), and the thematic strategy on prevention and recycling of waste (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/strategy.htm).

Information from LCA can also support public policy making in eco-design criteria setting, such as contributing to performance targets within the Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP) and for energy-using products within the EuP Directive, in green public procurement (GPP), and in environmental product declarations (EPDs).

However, it has to be kept in mind that the use of LCA is merely a decision supporting tool, rather than a decision making tool, since it has a specific focus. It particularly tends to exclude economic and social impacts, as well as the consideration of more local environmental issues. It is therefore necessary to use it in conjunction with other tools to assist in identifying areas of potential improvement.


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an internationally standardised methodology (ISO 14040 ff). LCA helps to quantify the environmental pressures related to goods and services (products), the environmental benefits, the trade-offs and areas for achieving improvements taking into account the full life-cycle of the product. Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) and Life Cycle Impact assessment (LCIA) are consecutive parts of a Life Cycle Assessment, where:
  • Life Cycle Inventory is the collection and analysis of environmental interventions data (e.g. emissions to e.g. air and water, waste generation and resource consumption) which are associated with a product from the extraction of raw materials through production and use to final disposal, including recycling, reuse, and energy recovery.


  • Life Cycle Impact Assessment is the estimation of indicators of the environmental pressures in terms of e.g. climate change, summer smog, resource depletion, acidification, human health effects, etc. associated with the environmental interventions attributable to the life-cycle of a product.
The data used in LCA should be consistent and quality assured and reflects actual industrial process chains. Methodologies should reflect a best consensus based on current practice.