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Life Cycle Analysis: Overview

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a term used broadly to apply to any of a number of analytic techniques to evaluate the environmental impact of a material or a service throughout its life cycle from extraction or harvesting of raw materials through processing, manufacture, installation, use and ultimate disposal or recycling.

The Healthy Building Network's analysis of the environmental impact of materials is strongly rooted in a life cycle thinking approach, emphasizing the importance of looking at impacts throughout the life cycle.

However, HBN has significant concerns about a range of LCA analysis techniques and computer tools currently being developed and applied to building materials. Serious gaps and biases in the data currently available have been found to radically distort results, overemphasizing some impacts while totally hiding other critical ones. (See this critique of a LCA of PVC commissioned by the European Union.)

For example, there are inherent structural constraints on the ability of LCA to address a range of toxic chemicals and their related human health issues, like cancer. LCA is also very poor at incorporating precautionary principle thinking or in providing clear market signals on specific issues of concern.

LCAs have significant flaws that make them not ready for use by building designers (PDF), according to the National Association of Home Builders

Paradoxically, LCA constraints may actually guide the user away from a good understanding of the full environmental health impacts and can lead to materials decisions that do not actually reflect the user's environmental goals.

Life Cycle Analysis Links

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