WTF is LCA?

December 10, 2010 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment

LCA stands for Life Cycle Assessment.

In 2007, Metropolis defined LCA as “a process to assess the environmental impact of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from manufacturing and production through consumption and disposal.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency‘s website (last updated December 3, 2010) describes LCA as “a technique to assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process, or service, by compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases; evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs and releases; and interpreting the results to help you make a more informed decision.”


graphic via re-nest‘s tips on Conducting a Mini Life Cycle Assessment

Many other explanations fundamentally say the same thing: LCA helps us figure out where all the components of a design come from, how they get incorporated into the design, what happens during use of or experience with the design, and where all the components end up after that use or experience is over. Abstractly, it’s not a difficult concept. But more specific parts of the assessment process (such as where and how you get your data) aren’t always clear or standardized. In Core77, Tim Greiner of Pure Strategies describes how weight percentage helps him narrow down his focus when doing LCA for a product. “For example, a material that makes up 40% versus 1% of a product’s weight may need greater attention.” The follow up question, of course, is percentage do you choose as the cut-off?

For more information on some available tools for helping you figure out your design’s LCA, check out the bottom half of the Core77 article by Lloyd Hicks.

December 10’s daily design idea comes from the Core77 article mentioned above, dated March 4th, 2010: “Every stage in the product’s life cycle has potential impacts on the environment; LCA gives designers the ability to make informed decisions to reduce those impacts.” Designers may not be consistently informed, since different methods of LCA will provide somewhat different results, but having some information is almost always better than having none.

This post is part of the series “WTF..?” that defines and explores acronyms in the design world. Previous posts include “WTF is IEQ?”

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