On the limitations of life cycle assessment and environmental systems analysis tools in general

  • Göran Finnveden
The MEM LCA PhD club


The potential and limitations of life cycle assessment and environmental systems analysis tools in general are evaluated. More specifically this is done by exploring the limits of what can be shown by LCA and other tools. This is done from several perspectives. First, experiences from current LCAs and methodology discussions are used including a discussion on the type of impacts typically included, quality of inventory data, methodological choices in relation to time aspects, allocation, characterisation and weighting methods and uncertainties in describing the real world. Second, conclusions from the theory of science are practised. It is concluded that it can in general not be shown that one product is environmentally preferable to another one, even if this happens to be the case. This conclusion has important policy implications. If policy changes require that it must be shown that one product is more (or less) environmentally preferable before any action can be taken, then it is likely that no action is ever going to take place. If we want changes to be made, decisions must be taken on a less rigid basis. It is expected that in this decision making process, LCA can be a useful input. Since it is the only tool that can be used for product comparisons over the whole life cycle, it can not be replaced by any other tool and should be used. Increased harmonisation of LCA methodology may increase the acceptability of chosen methods and increase the usefulness of the tool.


Allocation case studies characterisation classification data quality decision support environmental policy instruments goal and scope definition incineration interpretation landfilling Life Cycle Impact Assessment Life Cycle Inventory Analysis methodology system analysis uncertainty values weighting 


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Copyright information

© Ecomed Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fms (Environmental Strategies Research Group) and Swedish Defence Research Establishment (FOA)StockholmSweden

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