Life Cycle Analysis

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Getting the Complete Picture

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is an advanced economic technique used to estimate the wide range of environmental impacts or costs of a project over its entire life. This discussion of LCA focuses on how to apply the approach to estimate the environmental costs of a project.

Cradle to Grave

A life cycle analysis allows the environmental impact of a project/product to be measured. It allows specific values to be put to the raw materials used, energy required and also the wastes produced.LCA estimates the impacts or costs of resources associated with a project from ‘cradle to grave’ – including extraction, processing, use, and disposal. The technique is often used to compare options for a project, informing a selection that is less environmentally damaging.

LCA can be narrowed to compare options for specific environmental priorities, such as reducing greenhouse gases. Pragmatically, it is more manageable to focus on one pollutant, such as greenhouse gas, than it is to focus on wide range of pollutants and materials associated with a project.

Help Meet Your Climate Change Targets

LCA is useful for greenhouse gas management, because these emissions have a significant impact on our environment and there is growing demand to constrain them. Greenhouse gas emissions mainly come from the volume and type of energy we use, so energy choices are really important project considerations. Greenhouse gases also come from landfills, so how we manage solid waste will also matter. Moreover, by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, LCA can help local governments meet their carbon neutral commitments.

LCA can add up the greenhouse gas emissions from all of the stages for each project option, to help you choose an option that releases fewer emissions.

For example, greenhouse gases aren’t just released when we burn gasoline in a car. Extracting oil for gasoline (‘cradle’ stage) takes energy, too. Greenhouse gases are also generated from material after we’re finished with it. When we put garbage in a landfill (‘grave’ stage), such as food, yard, and lumber waste, these also create greenhouse gas emissions.

Bonus!

LCA can help you make project choices in other ways, too. Sometimes, an option that initially looks more expensive, will actually turn out to be less expensive once you’ve included the full life cycle costs. For example, greenhouse gas emissions from landfills can be captured and used to provide heat or electricity, while giving you a new source of revenue too.

Life Cycle Costing vs. Life Cycle Analysis

LCA is complementary but not the same as life cycle costing (LCC) which looks at the economic costs of a capital investment over its useful life, including operation and maintenance. Local governments can apply LCC more readily. It helps local governments look strategically at infrastructure investments that have higher upfront costs but significantly reduce costs over the long term.

 [Use the tab above to learn HOW to reduce emissions with this tool.]