Life cycle assessment (LCA) is potentially one of the most instructive management tools for gaining insight into product-related environmental impacts. It is considered by many as a complementary and more comprehensive tool with respect to other environmental management systems (EMS) for supporting an effective integration of environmental aspects in business and economy. However, strong disagreement still exists among analysts about the practical use of LCA in business: 'LCA is the environmental management tool of the 1990s ... LCA will be seen as an integral part of the environmental tool-kit' (Jensen et al. 1997, p. 28), 'LCA procedures are too expensive and complicated, they could only seldom be used' (Arnold 1993), 'many methodological choices are required and a number of aspects still need to be worked out, potentially jeopardizing the credibility of the outcome of LCA studies. This may lead to a decreasing confidence in and use of LCA by industry and governmental institutions' (Wrisberg et al. 1997). However, despite still existing problems and barriers, the methodology and 'technique' of LCA have significantly improved during the last few years. Consensus has now been reached on a number of key issues, and several ISO norms have been published (see also Chapter 12). Meanwhile the adoption of LCA in business has grown and LCA is now used in many industry sectors.
The objective of this chapter is to describe the current state of the art in the use of LCA as a management tool and the outlook for the future. It focuses on the possible uses of LCA, the dynamic and learning aspects of LCA adoption patterns and the current level of diffusion in European industry. Finally, it discusses the issues still to be overcome and the main recommendations for a future proper and increasingly widespread use of LCA in management within the framework of industrial ecology.
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