Challenges of organizational LCA: lessons learned from road testing the guidance on organizational life cycle assessment
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The novelty of the O-LCA method and the existing differences with the established product LCA practice, as well as the unique structure each organization, pose a broad range of methodological and application challenges, in addition to the general methodological gaps in LCA. In order to provide practitioners with lessons learned for future applications and boost future method development efforts, the paper discusses those challenges.
The challenges included in this paper were mainly identified from a survey administered to the road testers and from experiences during the piloting process. These are complemented with case studies from literature. The focus of the paper is on challenges exclusive to the organizational approach, although some additional issues common to product LCA but intensified in organizational LCA are also included. Each issue is characterized and exemplified, recommendations of reference standards are analyzed, and possible solutions discussed.
Results and discussion
With the goal and scope of O-LCA, some challenging issues were to select part of an organization as the reporting organization, and the operability of the reporting flow. Regarding the system boundary, the challenges were which parts of the supply chain should be included in the study, problems when setting the system boundary for the service sector, how to include supporting activities, and how to prepare the right system boundary diagrams. Regarding the inventory stage, the discussion starts with alternatives to the categorization of the inventory into activities and the aggregation of those activities into groups. It includes an equivalence table for an easier transfer from other organizational frameworks (ISO 14069 and the GHG Protocol). Some challenges during impact assessment and interpretation were the assessment of local impacts, scoping performance tracking, and the use of O-LCA results for an organization’s strategy.
The review of challenges is not meant as a complete overview of all possible challenges—new challenges may arise in future case studies. Further application testing is needed, along with research to support a future revision of the O-LCA Guidance, in line with the issues highlighted in this paper and new challenges may arise in future case studies. O-LCA has the potential to contribute in the future implementation of the life cycle concept in environmental management systems, in the development of organizational footprint metrics for region-specific impacts, and in the social dimension of life cycle assessment.
KeywordsCase studies Footprinting Gaps Indirect impacts O-LCA
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