Background_LCTThe Integrated Product Policy (COM (2003)302) identified Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as the “best framework for assessing the potential environmental impacts of products”. It highlighted the necessity for a Platform on LCA and to increase the availability of quality-assured life-cycle data. The JRC responded to these needs by establishing the European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment (EPLCA), through which it has facilitated the development of the European reference Life Cycle Database (ELCD), the International reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) Handbook, and the Life Cycle Data Network (LCDN).

The European Platform on LCA is a project of the European Commission, carried out by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) in collaboration with DG Environment Directorate Green Economy.

Our thinking: Life Cycle Approach


Life Cycle seeks to identify possible improvements to goods and services in the form of lower environmental impacts and reduced use of resources across all life cycle stages. This begins with raw material extraction and conversion, then manufacture and distribution, through to use and/or consumption. It ends with re-use, recycling of materials, energy recovery and ultimate disposal.

The key aim of Life Cycle Thinking is to avoid burden shifting. This means minimising impacts at one stage of the life cycle, or in a geographic region, or in a particular impact category, while helping to avoid increases elsewhere. For example, saving energy during the use phase of a product, while not increasing the amount of material needed to provide it.

Taking a life cycle perspective requires a policy developer, environmental manager or product designer to look beyond their own knowledge and in-house data. It requires cooperation up and down the supply chain. At the same time, it also provides an opportunity to use the knowledge that has been gathered to gain significant economic advantages.

Life Cycle can help identify opportunities and lead to decisions that help improve environmental performance, image, and economic benefits. This approach demonstrates that responsibility for reducing environmental impacts is being taken.

Looking at the bigger picture:  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.

There are several ways to assess the life cycle impacts of products. Some are more complex than others – all have their merits. Different approaches demand different requirements in terms of data collection and quality assurance, resulting in varying levels of robustness. They also have different intended users – from consumers and small and medium sized enterprises, to major corporation product designers and experienced life cycle experts.

For those working in the field of policy development, taking a life cycle approach is beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • Gathering baseline environmental impact information for market-orientated policies and the promotion of innovative product design
  • Understanding trends in product supply chains and where is it best to influence the chain
  • Developing resource strategies, such as optimal waste management
  • Better informing consumers through the use of labeling schemes and the use of Green Public Procurement (GPP)

In business, the life cycle approach can help to:

  • Understand which parts of a product’s life cycle have the greatest environmental impacts, to enable material and economic efficiency
  • Create an improved market position and customer image through schemes such as ecolabels, Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and carbon labels
  • Achieve closer cooperation with suppliers and customers regarding product risks, development and marketing
  • Foster better relations with authorities, environmental groups and with other collaborative partners
  • Improve the company’s image to shareholders and customers

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