Standards for life cycle assessment

Paul Boughton

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is publishing new, improved editions of its life cycle assessment standards designed to highlight environmental problems and areas for improvement in the production and use of products.

The ever-increasing demand for products is putting added pressure on the environment. Exploitation of resources and manufacturing of products are creating potentially devastating stresses on the natural world.

The new standards facilitate the process of evaluating the impacts that a product has on the environment over its entire life, thereby encouraging the efficient use of resources and decreasing liabilities.

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is the assessment of the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan. The goal of an LCA is to compare the environmental performance of products in order to be able to choose the least burdensome.

The term 'life cycle' refers to the notion that for a fair, holistic assessment the raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal (including all intervening transportation steps) need to be assessed. The concept can also be used to optimise the environmental performance of a single product (ecodesign) or a company.

The development of the International Standards for life cycle assessment is an important step to consolidate procedures and methods of LCA says Melanie Raimbault, secretary of the ISO subcommittee that developed the new standards. Their contribution is crucial to the general acceptance of LCA by all stakeholders and by the international community."

ISO 14040:2006Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Principles and frameworkprovides a clear overview of the practiceapplications and limitations of LCA to a broad range of potential users and stakeholdersincluding those with a limited knowledge of life cycle assessment.

ISO 14044:2006Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Requirements and guidelinesis designed for the preparation ofconduct ofand critical review of life cycle inventory analysis. It also provides guidance on the impact assessment phase of LCA and on the interpretation of LCA resultsas well as the nature and quality of the data collected.

ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006 replace the previous standards ISO 14040:1997ISO 14041:1999ISO 14042:2000 and ISO 14043:2000. The new editions have been updated to improve readabilitywhile leaving the requirements and technical content unaffectedexcept for errors and inconsistencies.

ISO 14040:2006 costs 96 Swiss francs and ISO 14044:2006 costs 146 Swiss francs and both are available from ISO national member institutes and from ISO Central Secretariat. The new standards are the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 207Environmental managementsubcommittee SC 5Life cycle assessment.

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