, Volume 4, Issue 5, pp 299-306

Life cycle impact assessment sophistication

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Abstract

On November 29 – 30, 1998 in Brussels, an international workshop was held to discuss Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) Sophistication. Approximately 50 LCA experts attended the workshop from North America, Europe, and Asia. Prominent practitioners and researchers were invited to present a critical review of the associated factors, including the current limitations of available impact assessment methodologies and a comparison of the alternatives in the context of uncertainty. Each set of presentations, organised into three sessions, was followed by a discussion session to encourage international discourse with a view to improving the understanding of these crucial issues. The discussions were focused around small working groups of LCA practitioners and researchers, selected to include a balance of representatives from industry, government and academia.

This workshop provided the first opportunity for International experts to address the issues related to LCIA Sophistication in an open format. Among the topics addressed were: 1) the inclusion or exclusion of backgrounds and thresholds in LCIA, 2) the necessity and practicality regarding the sophistication of the uncertainty analysis, 3) the implications of allowing impact categories to be assessed at “midpoint” vs. at “endpoint” level, 4) the difficulty of assessing and capturing the comprehensiveness of the environmental health impact category, 5) the implications of cultural/philosophical views, 6) the meaning of terms like science-based and environmental relevance in the coming ISO LCIA standard, 7) the dichotomy of striving for consistency while allowing the incorporation of state-of-the-art research, 8) the role of various types of uncertainty analysis, and 9) the role of supporting environmental analyses (e.g., risk assessments). Many of these topics addressed the need for increased sophistication in LCIA, but recognised the conflict this might have in terms of the comprehensiveness and holistic character of LCA, and LCIA in particular. The participants concluded that the exchange of ideas in this format was extremely valuable and would like to plan successive International workshops on related themes.