The Life Cycle Assessment and the Environmental Product Declaration based on it describe the environmental impacts generated during the product’s life cycle. Verification increases the reliability of the results.

Life cycle assessment or LCA is a versatile method to obtain information about the environmental impacts generated during the product’s life cycle.

In contrast to the calculation of the company’s carbon footprint, in life cycle assessment the object of examination is the product instead of the emissions of the entire organisation’s value chain. The LCA considers what climate and other environmental impacts are caused by the manufacture, use and recycling of single final product unit.

The assessment examines the different phases of the product’s life cycle. It typically includes the acquisition of raw materials for the product, their processing and transportation to the manufacturing facility, as well as the manufacture, distribution, use, maintenance, recycling, and decommissioning of the product (so-called cradle-to-grave LCA). Depending on the intended use of the results and the examined product, the LCA can also be carried out in a narrower form, for example covering only the stages of the cradle-to-gate LCA.

Life cycle assessment, its tools and methods

An important term related to LCA is the functional unit which means that all input data is collected and the results are calculated for a single product unit. A functional unit can be for example one product or one kilogram of product.

A modelling software created for that purpose is used as a tool in the preparation of the life cycle assessment. The most widely used software are LCA for Experts (formerly GaBi) and SimaPro.

Life cycle assessment consists of four main stages, each of which is equally important in terms of achieving a high-quality result:

  1. goal and scope definition
  2. inventory analysis
  3. impact assessment
  4. interpretation

Compliance with the standards requires accurate and transparent documentation of all stages of the work, including identified uncertainties.

What information does Life Cycle Assessment produce?

The results of the life cycle assessment include dozens of different environmental indicators, in addition to the global warming impacts, i.e. the carbon footprint. These include acidification, eutrophication, water use and natural resource depletion.

Life cycle assessment and its results are suitable for many areas of business development, for example:

  • In product development it can be used to compare the impacts of different raw material choices and move towards more environmentally friendly design, or ecodesign.
  • Based on the results, the production process can be improved by making better use of resources or by switching to more sustainable sources of electricity, heat, and fuels.
  • Modelling can also be used to study alternative logistics scenarios.
  • Overall, it is possible to identify hot spots of environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of the product.

When based on the assessment prepared in accordance with the standards and the researched results, the results of LCA can be used in responsible communication and marketing. For example, the EU Commission’s recent directive proposal states that in order to avoid greenwashing and misleading environmental claims, companies’ environmental claims and ecolabels should be based on scientific life cycle assessment methods.

The Environmental Product Declaration documents the results of the Life Cycle Assessment

The Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is one way to report and use the results of life cycle assessment. The environmental product declaration is a standard-format document compliant with the ISO 14025 standard. Furthermore, product category rules (PCR) must be considered when preparing it.

Environmental product declarations made according to the same standards and calculation instructions are comparable. As a result, there is a greater demand in various industries, so that environmental information for various products can be produced and compared objectively. However, in many industries having an EPD is no longer enough to differentiate from the competition, but a low carbon footprint is becoming an increasingly important differentiating factor.

For example, at the beginning of 2023, more than 16,000 standard EN15804 compliant EPD’s for construction products had already been published worldwide.

The climate perspective is heavily emphasised in the new Building Act, which will come into force on 1 January 2025. The act guides to build with low carbon intensity and to consider the climate loads and benefits that arise during the life cycle of the building. With the Building Act, EPD’s of building materials are to become a routine part of building planning. With this in mind, the RTS climate declaration, which is lighter than the RTS environmental product declaration, will soon be launched. There the values of the carbon footprint known from the EPD will be announced, as well as the product’s material declaration as a new section.

Verification increases the reliability of the results

Verification ensures that the LCA or the EPD has been prepared in accordance with the standards. Verification of the created declaration by an independent third party is an essential part of the preparation of an environmental product declaration. Verification of a life cycle assessment on its own is optional, but recommended.

After verification, the EPD can be published in a national or international EPD register, such as EPD International, and in Finland the Building Information Foundation’s RTS EPD register for construction products.

Is your company interested in Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Product Declaration and would like to hear more? Contact our experts:

Nordic Offset expertly implements the documentation of product-specific Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations. In addition, we serve as an independent verifier.

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