A decision-analytic framework for impact assessment part I: LCA and decision analysis

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Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) are conducted to satisfy the aspiration of decision makers to consider the environment in their decision making. This paper reviews decision analysis and discusses how it can be used to structure the assessment and to integrate characterization and valuation. The decision analytic concepts of objectives (goals) and attributes (indicators of the degree to which an objective is achieved) are used to describe steps of the assessment of the entire impact chain. Decision analysis distinguishes among different types of objectives and attributes; it describes how these relate to each other. Impact indicators such as the Human Toxicity Potential are constructed attributes. A means-ends objectives network can show how the different constructed attributes relate to the objective of protecting the environment. As LCA takes disparate environmental impacts into account, it needs to assess their relative importance. Trade-off methods in decision analysis are grouped into utility theory and multicriteria decision aids; they have different advantages and disadvantages, but are all more sophisticated than simple weighting. The performance of the different trade-off methods has not yet been tested in an LCA context. In the second part of the paper, we present criteria for the development of characterization methods.