EU Science Hub

Brief on the use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate environmental impacts of the bioeconomy

This brief on the use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate environmental impacts of the bioeconomy is one out of a series of briefs from the EC's Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy which intend to provide independent evidence for EU policy in this field. The following are the key results: 1. Potential environmental impacts of bioeconomy sectors and the use of bio-based commodities must be monitored, evaluated and forecast in order to ensure that the bioeconomy operates within safe ecological limits. 2. LCA is a structured, comprehensive and internationally standardised method used to assess potential environmental impacts associated with a product’s life cycle. 3. Different modelling principles allow for the development of approaches suited to a broad range of contexts and scales. The LCA modelling approach should carefully consider the goal and scope of the assessment in order to avoid misinterpretation of the results. Benchmarking products, checking compliance with regulatory requirements and evaluating the impacts of strategic decisions may require different approaches. 4. LCA that supports the implementation of policies should be easy to calculate, have well-defined rules, use a well-defined inventory and be of general validity across temporal and spatial scales. Elements of consequential thinking will benefit LCA that supports impact assessment of strategic policies. 5. An open database with attributional LCA results for bio-based commodities, calculated or assembled by the JRC is available. The updated Bioeconomy Strategy will help generate more and higher quality data. 6. Despite the uncertainties and limitations, life-cycle-based approaches provide the most comprehensive, structured, consistent and robust means of assessing the environmental performance of bio-based products and systems within safe ecological limits.