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Life Cycle Perspective

Introduction | Environmental Issue or Problem | Research Approach |
Clients and Collaborators
| Projects | Selected Publications | Related Links | Contact

Introduction

Life Cycle Perspective flow chart: ?: raw materials to manufacturing to use to disposal / recycling back to raw materials and so on.

For many years, reducing the environmental impacts of products focused solely on production processes, treatment of waste, and effluent streams. While this remains important, in order to successfully address environmental sustainability issues, we must also consider the design, manufacture, and use of a product across its entire life cycle: from raw material extraction and conversion; to manufacture and distribution; through use, re-use, and recycling; to ultimate disposal. The use of a holistic life cycle perspective helps manufacturers and policy makers identify possible improvements across the industrial system and through all the product’s life cycle stages. It also applies to improving industrial processes and activities.

The key aim of thinking about products and processes using a life cycle perspective is to avoid burden shifting. This means minimizing impacts at one stage of the life cycle, or in one geographic region, or in a particular impact category, while avoiding unrecognized increased impacts elsewhere. Taking a life cycle perspective requires a policy developer, environmental manager, or product designer to look beyond their own system, knowledge, or in-house operations.

Environmental Issue or Problem

Applying a life cycle perspective can help identify opportunities and lead to sustainable solutions that help improve environmental performance, societal image, and economic benefits. Businesses do not always consider their supply chains or the ‘use’ and ‘end-of-life’ processes associated with their products. Government actions often focus on a specific country or region, and not on the impacts or benefits that can occur in other regions or that are attributable to their own levels of consumption. Currently, life cycle perspective research is being directed toward the following areas of application:

Research Approach

The approach to applying a life cycle perspective in order to arrive at a broader perspective is called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA methods have been standardized as part of the International Standards Organization (ISO) environmental management standards in ISO 14040:2006 and 14044:2006. LCA is intended to be a quantitative approach; however, in order to form a complete picture of the product system and the environmental impacts that are involved, qualitative aspects can, and should, be taken into account when quantitative data are not obtainable.

LCA is a way to analyze the inputs and outputs of materials and energy, and the environmental impacts that are directly attributable to a product, a process, or a service. The goal is to enable decision makers to make the most environmentally benign choices. Analyzing the full life cycle forces decision makers to look holistically at consumption and production.

Basic LCA guidance is available in EPA’s LCA101 document entitled, “Life Cycle Assessment: Principles and Practice,” which provides an introductory overview of LCA and describes the major components of LCA: goal and scope definition, life cycle inventory, life cycle impact assessment, and interpretation. 

Clients and Partnerships

Nanotechnology in Lithium-Ion Batteries Partnership
EPA’s life cycle analysis researchers and the Design for the Environment Program in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution prevention formed a nanotechnology partnership to conduct a screening-level LCA for traditional and nanotechnology alternatives for lithium-ion batteries for use in hybrid and electric vehicles. Partners include industry members, academia, research institutions, other government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative
EPA is participating in the partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in the Life Cycle Initiative that was launched to enable users around the world to put life cycle thinking into effective practice.

Region 8 Asphalt LCA
Life cycle analysis researchers are providing assistance to EPA Region 8, which, along with support from Booz Allen Hamilton, is producing a LCA for post-consumer asphalt shingles in pavement production. The results of this LCA will quantify the impacts avoided when post-consumer asphalt shingles are used in place of conventional pavement materials.

Region 9 Green Remediation
EPA Region 9 is applying the life cycle concept to estimate the environmental footprint of a corrective action cleanup in a pilot study at Romic in East Palo Alto, California.

The Sustainability Consortium Exit EPA Disclaimer
The Sustainability Consortium is an independent organization of diverse global participants who work collaboratively to build a scientific foundation that drives innovation to improve consumer product sustainability through all stages of a product's life cycle.

Projects

Publications

Ingwersen, Curran, Gonzalez, and Hawkins. (In press). “Using Screening-Level Environmental Life Cycle Assessment to Aid Decision Making: A Case Study of a College Annual Report.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Bare, J.C. (2011). “Five Key Elements for Environmental Sustainable Progress.” International Journal for Sustainable Innovations, 1, 1.

Bare, J.C. (2011) “Recommendation for Land-Use Impact Assessment – First Steps Into Framework, Theory, and Implementation.” Clean Technology and Environmental Policy, 13, 1.

Bare, J.C. (2010). “Life Cycle Impact Assessment Research Developments and Needs.” Clean Technology and Environmental Policy, 12, 4.

Lautier, A., R. Rosenbaum, M. Margni, J. Bare, P. Roy, and L. Deschenes. (2010). “Development of Normalization Factors for Canada and the United States and Comparison With European Factors.” Science of the Total Environment, 409, 1.

Meyer, D.E., M.A. Curran, and M.A. Gonzalez. (2010). “An Examination of Silver Nanoparticles in Socks Using Screening-Level Life Cycle Assessment.” Journal of Nanoparticle Research, DOI: 10.1007/s11051-010-0013-4.

Meyer, D.E., M.A. Curran, and M.A. Gonzalez. (2009). “Industrial Manufacture and Use of Nanocomponents and Their Role in the Life Cycle Impact of Nanoproducts.” Environmental Science and Technology, 43, 5: 1256–1263.

Curran, M.A. (2009). “Bio-Based Materials.” In: Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. KOE-09-0006.R1, 23 pp.

Additional Publications

Related Links

Contact

Jane Bare
Life Cycle Assessment/Impact Assessment
513-569-7513

David E. Meyer
Nanotechnology
513-569-7194

Troy Hawkins
Biofuels
513-569-7139

Wes Ingwersen
Consumer Products
513-569-7602

Diana Bless
Sustainable Materials Management
513-569-7674

Cissy Ma
Emergy Analysis
513-569-7828

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