Life Cycle Analysis

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is hard to do. If you Google it, the most popular links are dated. LCA is a good idea that is difficult to manage because supply chains are complex and conflicting criteria must be applied to select the best option in each link of the chain.

The goal of LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services by quantifying all inputs and outputs of material flows and assessing how these material flows affect the environment. This information is used to improve processes, support policy and provide a sound basis for informed decisions.

The term life cycle refers to the notion that a fair, holistic assessment requires the assessment of raw-material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal including all intervening transportation steps necessary or caused by the product’s existence.

The procedures of life cycle assessment (LCA) are part of the ISO 14000 environmental management standards: in ISO 14040:2006 and 14044:2006. (ISO 14044 replaced earlier versions of ISO 14041 to ISO 14043.) GHG product life cycle assessments can also comply with specifications such as PAS 2050 and the GHG Protocol Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard.[

To implement a sustainable supply chain companies must adopt a holistic systems-based approach in which all the supply chain partners’ activities are integrated throughout the four basic lifecycle stages: pre-manufacturing, manufacturing, use and post-use.

In 2009 Walmart announced its intention to create a new sustainable product index that would establish a single source of data for evaluating the sustainability of products. The company said it would provide initial funding for a consortium of universities, suppliers, retailers, government organizations and NGOs “to develop a global database of information on the lifecycle of products – from raw materials to disposal.”

LCA attempts replace monetary cost with an energy currency. Energy efficiency is only one consideration in deciding which alternative process to employ, and that it should not be elevated to the only criterion for determining environmental acceptability; for example, simple energy analysis does not take into account the renewability of energy flows or the toxicity of waste products; however, the life cycle assessment does help companies become more familiar with environmental properties and improve their environmental footprint.

The literature on life cycle assessment of energy technology has begun to reflect the interactions between the current electrical grid and future energy technology. Some papers have focused on energy life cycle, while others have focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. The essential critique given by these sources is that when considering energy technology, the growing nature of the power grid must be taken into consideration. If this is not done, a given class of energy technology may emit more CO2 over its lifetime than it mitigates.

A problem the energy analysis method cannot resolve is that different energy forms (heat, electricity, chemical energy etc.) have different quality and value even in natural sciences, as a consequence of the two main laws of thermodynamics. A thermodynamic measure of the quality of energy is exergy. According to the first law of thermodynamics, all energy inputs should be accounted with equal weight, whereas by the second law diverse energy forms should be accounted by different values.

A recent article by López  (López Isabel Noya, 2018) illustrates the complexities and methodologies of LCA.


Bredenberg, A. (2012, March 20). Lifecycle Assessment in Sustainable Supply Chains. Retrieved from

Florian Suter, B. S. (2016, September 26). Life Cycle Impacts and Benefits of Wood along the Value Chain: The Case of Switzerland. Retrieved from Wiley Online Library:

Gestring, I. (2017). Life Cycle and Supply Chain Management for Sustainable Bins. Retrieved from Science Direct:

López Isabel Noya, V. V.-G. (2018, January). An environmental evaluation of food supply chain using life cycle assessment: A case study on gluten free biscuit products. Retrieved from Science Direct:

United Nations Environment Programme. (2009). Life Cycle Management. United Nations Environment Programme. Dublin: United Nations Environment Programme. Retrieved from

Wharton. (2010, March 3). The Business Case for Lifecycle Analysis and Building a Green Supply Chain. Retrieved from Knowledge@Wharton:

Wikipedia. (2018, January 22). Life-cycle assessment. Retrieved from Wikipedia: