Elevating Environmental Excellence with ISO 14044

Discover ISO 14044 for sustainable decision-making and eco-conscious practices, and learn how to drive your company’s success with the environment as a top priority.

What is ISO 14044?

ISO 14044 is an international standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that provides guidelines and principles for conducting life cycle assessments (LCA) of products and services. It’s under the broader umbrella of ISO 14000 or Environmental Management. By establishing a consistent framework for conducting LCAs, organizations can better understand and assess their potential environmental impact and minimize their footprint.


To understand ISO 14044 better, one needs to grasp the concept of LCA. Life cycle assessment is the comprehensive approach to evaluating the environmental aspect and potential impact of a product or service, from raw material extraction through production and usage to disposal.

Scientific and economic experts from various organizations agree that the operational processes of companies and the ensuing product or service harm our ecosystem.

  • The World Green Building Council found that up to 40% of global carbon emissions are said to be caused by the construction industry.
  • According to the World Wildlife Fund, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals.
  • The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) states that around a million plant and animal species could go extinct within a decade.

These are only some troubling statistics that prove the harmful consequences of various industries on the environment. If left unchecked, the following generations won’t have anything to employ and enjoy.

Key Components

ISO’s life cycle assessment provides a structured framework for assessing the product or service’s impacts. Here are the most vital elements of the standard:

Definition of the Goal and the Scope

The first step is to identify the LCA objectives and boundaries. By ensuring that the assessment is focused and relevant, companies can align their systems to their goals.

Real-Life Example

Here is a smartphone manufacturing company’s sample scope statement. They should cover all stages of the device’s life, from raw material extraction to end-of-life management. The company may include carbon footprint, resource depletion, and toxicity as impact categories. However, they may have to exclude packaging materials used during the distribution.

Life Cycle Inventory Analysis

The second element identifies and quantifies the inputs and outputs of the entire process, such as raw materials, energy, and water.


Real-Life Example

Aggregate and cement are the top ingredients for producing concrete blocks in construction. But those should not be the only items quantified. To ensure sustainable production, they should also consider requirements for the process, such as fuel for transportation, energy for the actual manufacturing (e.g., mixing, molding, and curing), and the resources for end-of-life scenarios (e.g., demolition, landfill disposal, and recycling).

Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA)

The LCIA assesses the environmental impacts, accounting for the emissions, waste, and other resources consumed. ISO 14004 guides practitioners through the system by providing relevant criteria and methods for evaluation.

Real-Life Example:

When extracting copper, the company needs to include all processes and their impact on the environment. The tasks include mining in an open pit, transportation to processing facilities, the actual processing (e.g., crushing and grinding), refining procedures, and transportation to the end users. The consequences are the potential for global warming, freshwater consumption, toxicity to the ecology, and human health impacts.

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Life Cycle Interpretation

The findings from the second and third phases (LCA and LCIA) should be interpreted, allowing companies to determine their overall environmental impact and identify areas for improvement.

Real-Life Example:

After identifying and quantifying the resources used for wheat production and assessing their potential effects on the environment, farmers can indicate their specific impact. With this information, they can figure out ways to improve irrigation, minimize fertilizer use, or choose better transportation.

Reporting and Critical Review

The entire process would be futile if stakeholders were not informed about the findings. Reporting and review is a critical element of the life cycle assessment (ISO 14044) because this serves as evidence that a study was conducted per the standards. It also proves the commitment of the company to sustainable business practices.

Real-Life Example:

A health and beauty company can add an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) to their shampoo bottle. Aside from the usual descriptions (e.g., 250mL lavender shampoo), they can add their impact categories (e.g., all organic, no animal testing, and minimized impact on the ecosystem). They can also include recycling instructions and the company’s initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

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Best Practices

The standard promotes an ongoing cycle of development for continuous improvement. Organizations identify areas for improvement, make the right changes, and work toward a more sustainable approach through the following:

Integrate ISO 14044 into all business processes.

For optimal efficiency, the standard should be embedded in every stage of product development. Companies should consider the environment from brainstorming sessions through research and development and all the way to roll out and iteration.

Incorporate training and capacity building.

Companies should also foster a culture of environmental consciousness and responsibility throughout their workforce. It is the only way to ensure that the concept is ingrained and practiced by everyone involved. To do this,  organizations should invest in training and continuous education, particularly about ISO 14044.

Leverage technology for accurate evaluations.

Conducting a series of assessments is one of the most challenging parts of the standard. It’s especially harder for large enterprises with hundreds of workflows and thousands of workers. Software solutions that facilitate accurate data gathering, robust analysis, and timely reporting are must-haves for this complex undertaking.

FAQs About ISO 14044

The standard is relevant to many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, construction, IT services, and academic institutions. Large enterprises usually assign a small team to ensure compliance with environmental codes, led by compliance experts, sustainability managers, health and safety department heads, and environmental lawyers.  

No. It’s more of a standard that guides organizations in conducting life cycle assessments as part of environmental management. Despite that fact, this is critical for companies to follow. The world is becoming more aware of the consequences of carbon emissions, enormous waste, and everything contributing to ecological decay and climate change.

Despite the clarity of the guidelines, from the goal and scope to the review and reporting, many find ambiguities in claiming conformance to the standard. Because it’s not a strict regulation, companies don’t have to prove they adhere to every phase rigorously. Secondly, it fails to address the specificities of products or industries. Finally, perhaps most importantly, the organization’s impact only covers the environment and leaves behind economic and social aspects. 

The distinction of ISO 14040 and 14044 lies in its scope and intent. The former is more general, providing the principles and framework of life cycle assessments. The latter specifies the requirements and guidelines when carrying it out.

Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Article by

Eunice Arcilla Caburao

SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Eunice Caburao is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. A registered nurse, theater stage manager, Ultimate Frisbee athlete, and mother, she has written a wide range of topics for over a decade. Eunice draws upon her rich, multidisciplinary background to create informative articles about emerging topics on health, safety, and workplace efficiency.