A Guide to Life Cycle Assessments

Gain a better understanding of life cycle assessments, their importance, and some of the best ways to conduct one for your organization.

team of workers performing a life cycle assessment on their products during a meeting

What is a Life Cycle Assessment?

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a methodology for evaluating a product’s environmental impact throughout its entire lifecycle. This includes gauging its impact from raw material extraction, processing, production, distribution, use, and disposal. Performing this assessment gives companies a definite idea of their products’ environmental impact, maintaining transparency within their organization, while also giving stakeholders the information they need to make smart environmental decisions moving forward.


LCAs are crucial for most organizations, as they primarily help companies measure the environmental impact of their products or services, from raw material extraction to disposal. This allows them to determine how efficient they are in using resources, helping them improve certain processes and make environmental decisions based on real-world data. Conducting an LCA also makes it easier for companies to do the following:

  • reduce their environmental impact;
  • abide by regulatory standards;
  • promote more environmentally-conscious practices; and
  • show consumers that they are taking real steps towards a more sustainable future.

Nowadays, companies must put a major emphasis on their environmental impact. We live in a world where people must put immediate effort into helping the environment, which is why LCAs are important. On top of that, modern consumers prioritize supporting businesses with a real environmental effort, further cementing why LCAs are becoming a major priority for many businesses.

Stages of a Life Cycle Assessment

While LCAs may look slightly different depending on the company conducting them or the products being assessed, there are a few core stages that are present in every industry’s life cycle assessment. These are the following:

Stage 1: Goal and Scope Definition

All LCAs start with defining your goals and the scope of your assessment. Ask yourself what aspects of the product or process will be evaluated, and what environmental impacts will be considered. Once these are established, you can create a solid foundation for the rest of the LCA process.

Stage 2: Life Cycle Inventory

This phase involves compiling a detailed inventory of all inputs and outputs throughout the life cycle. Here, raw materials, energy consumption, emissions, and waste generation are meticulously documented.

Stage 3: Life Cycle Impact Assessment

A Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) evaluates the potential environmental impacts identified in the previous stage. During an LCIA, you and organization can quantify your products’ effects on air, water, land, and resources, providing a comprehensive overview of your ecological footprint.

Stage 4: Interpretation

The final stage of an LCA involves interpreting the results to draw meaningful conclusions and guide decision-making. Stakeholders can use this information to identify opportunities for improvement and implement sustainable practices.

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Best Practices

Conducing LCAs can be quite a cumbersome task. With all the factors to consider, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, these assessments are critical in determining environmental impact and making data-driven decisions for the future of the organization. So, here are a few of the best practices for conducting LCAs to put you on the right track:

Following the Cradle-to-Grave Method

The cradle-to-grave method is the best way of conducting an LCA. This simply means tracking the impact of a product or service from its inception (cradle) all the way to its death (grave). This involves assessing the full impact of your products, from the extraction of raw materials needed, to its proper disposal at the end of its life.

Utilizing Consistent and Transparent Data Processes

It is essential to have proper data collection techniques and technologies in order to conduct efficient LCAs.  With the right collection processes and information management practices, you can ensure your data is consistent, fostering trust among stakeholders and enhancing the accuracy of environmental impact assessments.

This enables informed decision-making for sustainable practices, promoting transparency. It also facilitates the identification of potential biases or uncertainties, creating a more robust and credible evaluation of a product or process’s life cycle.

SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) is a platform for large organizations looking to take their LCAs to the digital world. With this digital tool, you can conduct your LCAs digitally, standardizing data collection processes and ensuring transparency within your organization. Through templated forms, smart analytical dashboards, and digital training courses all centralized in place, you can conduct efficient and consistent LCAs with ease, anytime and anywhere.

Updating Practices and Tools Regularly

It’s best for companies to utilize and leverage technology to their advantage when conducting LCAs. This means updating their practices and using the latest technology when conducting the assessments. When using digital platforms and other modern tools for your LCAs, you’ll find the process much simpler and more efficient.

FAQs about Life Cycle Assessments

While LCAs are not mandatory, there are various standards in place for organizations to follow when conducting one. Two relevant standards for companies to follow when conducting LCAs include ISO 14040 and ISO 14044

The frequency with which companies conduct LCAs can vary based on factors such as industry, regulatory requirements, product life cycle, and changes in production processes. Depending on your needs and market, it would be best to conduct LCAs regularly and consistently, such as every year or every certain number of years.

Conducting an LCA is important because it provides a systematic method for evaluating the environmental impacts of a product, process, or service throughout its entire life cycle. By considering all life cycle stages from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal, LCAs help identify opportunities for improvement and support informed decision-making towards more sustainable practices.

Yes, you can apply the LCA methodology to about any practice or product in your organization. This allows you to gauge the environmental impact of every aspect of operations, which is great for building trust and making better decisions for the company.

Leon Altomonte
Article by

Leon Altomonte

SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Leon Altomonte is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. With his language degree and years of experience in content writing, he delivers well-researched, informative articles about safety, quality, and operational excellence. In addition to his professional pursuits, Leon maintains a creative outlet as a performing musician.