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Life Cycle Analysis

Life Cycle Analysis

3.2.1 Life Cycle Analysis definition

The assessment of the effect a product has on the environment from the initial concept to disposal

This video explains how a seemingly simple and harmless object can have a big impact on the environment due its production process.

3.2.2 Describe how life cycle analysis provides a framework within which clean production technologies and green design can be evaluated holistically for a specific product.

Life Cycle Partial Life Cycle of a milk bottle

3.2.3 List the key stages in life cycle analysis.

In life cycle analysis the life cycle stages are categorised as
  • Pre- production
  • Production
  • Distribution including packaging
  • Utilization
  • Disposal (IBO 2007).
Strip or open cut mining Landfill

Pre- production is the obtaining of natural resources; it can be very polluting (strip-mining) or can have a small effect on the environment (shaft mining)

Production is the processing of the resources and shaping etc. to make the product. Once again it could be damaging to the environment (such as a large factory spewing out smoke) or have a small impact (a carpenter hand crafting children’s toys)

Distribution and packaging includes taking the product from the factory to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the store, and the package. It could have a large impact (as is the case with an imported object from around the world in a Styrofoam box) or a very low impact (made and sold in the same place with a biodegradable box or no packaging)

Utilisation is about the product’s use and the effect that has on the environment. A diesel generator for example will pollute air and make noise pollution while a solar panel will make next to none.

Disposal depends on both the product and the method of disposal. Recycling one aluminum can will make less environmental problems than throwing one away even if they are identical. Biodegradable objects can be reused, recycled, or left to be broken down and add nutrients to the soil, depending on the object one or the other would be preferable. Paper is best recycled because of the chemicals used to make it and the logging of forests to obtain the pulp while a banana peel is completely useless for anything but compost.

3.2.4 List the major environmental considerations in life cycle analysis.

Life cycle analysis includes environmental considerations:

  • Water
  • Soil pollution & degradation
  • Air contamination
  • Noise
  • Energy consumption
  • Consumption of natural resources
  • Pollution
  • effect on ecosystems

3.2.5 Both the environmental and life cycle stages can be organized into a matrix shown below.

Pre-production Production Distribution including packaging Utilization Disposal
Water Relevance
Soil pollution and degradation
Air contamination
Energy consumption
Consumption of natural resources
Effects on ecosystems

3.2.6 Analyse the environmental impact of refrigerators, washing machines and cars using an environmental impact assessment matrix.

Refrigerator LCA Washing machine LCA
Honda Civic LCA
from Honda

Using the Environmental impact assessment matrix to analyse the environmental impact of:

3.2.7 Elements of the matrix may differ in importance according to a particular design context.

For example; in the case of the fridges and cars the larger part of energy consumption takes place in use rather than maintenance.There are five stages in the product cycle that all can result with a bad impact upon the environment. The amount of impact depends upon how the product was pre-production produced distributed utilized and Disposed. The chart at the bottom

This Link is to a powerpoint showing ways where designers and manufacture can minimize the impact of products on the environment.

3.2.8 Identify the roles and responsibilities of the designer, manufacturer and user at each life cycle stage of a product.

The role of the designer throughout the life cycle is evident as the designer is responsible for pre-production and has a role in production. During these two processes the designer has control of the products future through his design. The designer has to plan the products obsolescence and how the object will be used. It is safe to say on the other hand that the manufacturer has less involvement with the life cycle as the manufacturer is mainly responsible for the production and the distribution and packaging of the product. The user has no involvement, other than their influence through reviews and lifestyle, regarding the making and selling of the product. However, the consumer is very significant regarding the utilization and the disposal of the product.

Pre-production Production Distribution including packaging Utilisation Disposal
Designer high mid - high mid high high
Manufacturer high high high low low
User (Consumer) low low low high high

3.2.9 Describe one example of a situation where life cycle analysis identifies conflicts, which have to be resolved through prioritisation.

Leaded fuel that is used for cars. The leaded fuel has high damaging affects on the environment and peoples health. Therefore through prioritisation now people use unleaded fuel which is less harmful to the environment.

hybrid Canada blog on Honda. It has very useful graphs from a Honda report.

  • Finding alternative fuel sources – Crude oil cost increase per barrel makes alternative greener fuel more attractive to consumers.
  • Bio-fuels Problem- Ethanol can be produced from corn grain and bio-diesel can be produced from soya beans instead.

3.2.10 Explain that life cycle analysis is targeted at particular product categories.

Life cycle analysis is targeted at products with a high environmental impact and in the global marketplace. It is then impossible for companies to argue that their products are being made uncompetitive. Life cycle analysis also targets companies with the resources to invest in R&D.

Life cycle analysis is becoming more conducted on car industry as can be seen from the Honda example. The automotive industry has a high environmental imapct at most stages of the life cycle.

3.2.11 Explain why life cycle analysis is not widely used in practice.

Life cycle analysis is not used for many products. However, in the re-innovation of the design of a product or its manufacture, specific aspects may be changed after considering the design objectives for green products. Thus the materials selected may be changed to make them more environmentally friendly, for example, wood from sustainable forests or the selection of a less toxic varnish. A product may be distributed differently or its packaging may be redesigned.
  • Benefits and Limitations of LCA
  • While Life Cycle Assessment has been widely used, it continues to face challenges. First, the process is inherently complex, time consuming, and costly. It requires considerable data and relies on a variety of assumptions. Second, there are continuing questions about impact assessment, especially for "local" issues such as eco-toxicity, human health, or nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). Finally, communicating the results of a Life Cycle Assessment is a considerable challenge, given the complexity of the method.

3.2.12 Describe the reasons for the introduction of eco-labelling schemes.

Ecolabelling is a environmental performance certification and labelling that is practised around the world. An eco-label is a label which identifies overall environmental preference of a product or service within a specific product/service category based on life cycle considerations.

Specifically, eco-labelling:

  • Provides reliable information about how the product impacts the environment, considering all stages of the product's life cycle: manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. An example of this is Swan eco-label.
  • Aids in the improvement of the workers have a role in the production's social and economic conditions, like the Fair Trade Labelling.
  • Informs customers about how the energy is produced, and whether it meets certain requirements, like those of The FANC energy eco-labelling scheme.
  • Allows consumers to make informed choices.

3.2.13 Explain how eco-labelling reflects life cycle analysis of certain product categories.

Product Category is the specific generic to which a good or service belongs; for example, while Fanta is a brand name, the product category to which it belongs is soft drinks or food and beverages.

Eco-labeling is when an unbiased organization (e.g. Eco trust) places a label on a product, certifying that the product under consideration is ecologically compatible. It is different from "green" stamps given or claims made by designers and manufacturers.

Eco labeling is to certify that a product is environmental friendly, and it shows that a product would have less negative impact on the environment, when getting rid of it. It has to be certified by a non-biased organization. As a result of that the life cycle of it would be different in a way that the end life would be recycling and during the process of recycling the environment won’t be affected negatively.

3.2.14 Compare the objectives of two different eco-labelling schemes.

Consider approaches to eco-labelling in Europe, Australia and the United States (US).
The European eco-label believes in sustainable development. They are based on the vision of greening non-food products all over Europe. The eco-label ‘norms’ are decided by the European Union Eco-labeling (EUEB). The Ecological criteria depend on basis of life cycle considerations (LCC), they believe strongly in the ‘cradle to grave’ view of the environmental impacts of a product group. The EU Eco-label’s primary function is to stimulate not only the supply but also the demand of products with a decreased environmental impact. Their goal is to ‘provide guidance to consumers’. For consumers, manufactures and retailers the symbol of the Flower reduces the cost by decreasing the time and effort needed to obtain and provide trustworthy information on LCC and green products.
In Australia, Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA)is committed to credible product information for sustainable development. It is the only environmental labeling program in Australia which indicates the environmental performance of a product during its complete life cycle. The label is awarded to products that meet voluntary environmental performance standards which have been created and assessed in comparison to international environmental labeling standards. Organization also awards a mark of recognition for products that meet the standards of environmental quality and social performances.
In the United States there is an eco label named Energy stars, which is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that promotes energy efficient products and practices. The Nutriclean label means that products are tested for pesticide rests and sets limits of detection for each specific pesticide remains. Green shield certified is an independent, non-profit certification program that promotes practitioners of effective, prevention-based pest control while minimizing the need to use pesticides. The Rainforest Alliance Certified is a certification granted by the Rainforest Alliance. The most famous eco-label in the USA is Green Seal. It is an independent, non-profit organization which is dedicated to safeguarding the environment by transforming the market place with the promotion of the manufacture, purchase and use of environmentally responsible products.
Energy eco label from Australia

3.2.15 Explain how Eco-labelling and energy-labelling schemes can help consumers to compare potential purchases.

"Eco-labeling" is a method by which products are environmentally rated:

  • The product is tested and its production line analyzed, by a third party company, which ultimately gives the label.
  • Labelling a product this way, allows consumers to distinguish between products, and therefore select more environmentally friendly ones.
  • Using such a technique users can choose their purchases, while taking into consideration its environmental impact.
  • Since it is given to products by third part companies, it is less prone to be bias, and can give the consumer a clear and true analysis.

"Energy-labelling" show a products energy-efficiency and consumption

  • As with Eco-labelling this label is given by a third party company
  • It shows the user how much energy is required/used by a product, as well as how efficient it is (how much heat-loss for example)
  • By using such labels, consumers can make their choices in products, by taking into account how much energy (toll on the environment) is used by the product.
  • By comparing theses two labels. and with consumer help, more environmentally friendly products could be sold therefore making companies use greener design.

Eco Label - Nordic Countries Eco Label
Energy Label - Hong Kong Energy Label - from around the world


Bulleted list and italicised paragraphs are excerpted from Design Technology: guide. Cardiff Wales, UK: International Baccalaureate Organization, 2007.

Images are clickable links to its location.

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Page last modified on February 24, 2013, at 04:00 AM