LCA had its beginnings in the 1960s. Concerns over the limitations of raw materials and energy resources sparked interest in finding ways to cumulatively account for energy use and to project future resource supplies and use. In 1969, researchers initiated an internal study for The Coca-Cola Company that laid the foundation for the current methods of life-cycle inventory analysis in the United States. In a comparison of different beverage containers to determine which container had the lowest releases to the environment and was least affected by the supply of natural resources, this study quantified the raw materials and fuels used and the environmental loadings from the manufacturing processes for each container. Other companies in both the United States and Europe performed similar comparative life-cycle inventory analyses in the early 1970s.
The process of quantifying the resource use and environmental releases of products became known in the United States as a 'resource and environmental profile analysis' (REPA) while in Europe it was called an 'ecoba-lance'. With the formation of public interest groups encouraging industry to ensure the accuracy of information in the public domain, and spurred on by the oil shortages in the early 1970s, a protocol or standard research methodology for conducting these studies was developed and further evolved.
From 1975 through the early 1980s, as interest in these comprehensive studies waned because ofthe fading influence of the oil crisis, environmental concerns shifted to issues of hazardous and household waste management. However, throughout this time, REPAs and 'ecobalances' continued to be conducted and the methodology improved through a slow steam of about two studies per year, most of which focused on energy requirements. During this time, European interest grew with the establishment of an Environment Directorate (DG X1) by the European Commission. European LCA practitioners developed approaches parallel to those being used in the United States. Besides working to standardize pollution regulations throughout Europe, DG X1 issued the Liquid Food Container Directive in 1985, which charged member companies with monitoring the energy and raw materials consumption and solid waste generation of liquid food containers.
When solid waste became a worldwide issue in 1988, LCA again emerged as a tool for analyzing environmental problems. As interest in all areas affecting resources and the environment grows, the methodology for LCA is again being improved. A broad base of consultants and researchers across the globe has been further refining and expanding the methodology. The need to move beyond the inventory to impact assessment brought LCA methodology to another point of evolution.
Beginning in 1991, concerns over the inappropriate use of LCAs in making broad marketing claims by product manufacturers, along with pressure from other environmental organizations to standardize LCA methodology, led to the development of the LCA standards in the International Standards Organization (ISO) 14000 series (1997-2002, and updated in 2006). In 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined forces with the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) to launch the Life Cycle Initiative, an international partnership. The three programs of the initiative aim to put life-cycle thinking into practice and to improve the supporting tools through better data and indicators. The Life Cycle Management (LCM) program creates awareness and improves skills of decision makers by producing information materials, establishing forums for sharing best practice, and carrying out training programs in all parts of the world. The Life Cycle Inventory program improves global access to transparent, high-quality life-cycle data by hosting and facilitating expert groups whose work results in web-based information systems. The Life Cycle Impact Assessment program increases the quality and global reach of life-cycle indicators by promoting the exchange of views among experts whose work results in a set of widely accepted recommendations.
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