Short History Of Life Cycle Assessment

Life cycle assessment (LCA) originated in the early 1970s. In this initial period studies were performed in a number of countries, in particular Sweden (Sundstrom 1973), the UK (Boustead 1972), Switzerland (Basler and Hofmann 1974) and the USA (Hunt et al.

1974). The basis lay in energy and waste management problems; the products which got primary attention were beverage containers, a topic which had dominated the LCA discussions for a long time. During the 1970s and the 1980s numerous studies were performed, using different methods and without a common theoretical framework. The consequences were rather negative, because LCA was directly applied in practice by firms in order to substantiate market claims. The obtained results differed greatly, although the objects of the study were often the same, thus preventing LCA from becoming a more generally accepted and applied analytical tool.

Since about 1990, exchanges between LCA experts have increased. Under the coordination of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) efforts started to harmonize the methodology (cf. Consoli et al. 1993), laying the basis for LCA as a broadly accepted formal tool. Since 1994, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has played a crucial role in this field; as also, since 1995, has the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP, Paris). Whereas SETAC has primarily a scientific task, focused on methodology development, ISO has taken up the formal task of methodology standardization, leading to the present standards in the 14040 series. UNEP has its focus on the global use of LCA.

As the LCA methods are becoming more sophisticated, software and databases are also being developed. However, for the credibility of the results procedural requirements are essential. Thus there generally will be a great need for an input by the most important stakeholders in the process, and there will be a need for an independent peer review of the results of an LCA study.

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