This paper explores the practical application of life cycle assessment (LCA) to product system development. While life cycle assessment methods have been studied and demonstrated extensively over the last two decades, their application to product design and development has not been critically addressed. Many organizational and operational factors limit the integration of the three LCA components (inventory analysis, impact assessment and improvement assessment) with product development. Design of the product system can be considered a synthesis of individual decisions and choices made by the design team, which ultimately shape the system's environmental profile. The environmental goal of life cycle design is to minimize the aggregate environmental impacts associated with the product system. Appropriate environmental information must be supplied to decision-makers throughout each stage of the development process to achieve this goal. LCA can serve as a source of this information, but informational requirements can vary as the design moves from its conceptual phase, where many design choices are possible, to its detailed design and implementation. Streamlined approaches and other tools, such as design checklists, are essential. The practical use of this tool in product development also depends on the nature and complexity of the product system (e.g. new vs. established), the product development cycle (time-to-market constraints), availability of technical and financial resources, and the design approach (integrated vs. serial). These factors will influence the role and scope of LCA in product development. Effective communication and evaluation of environmental information and the integration of this information with cost, performance, cultural and legal criteria will also be critical to the success of design initiatives based on the life cycle framework. An overview of several of these design initiatives will be presented
CSS Publication Number:
Journal of Cleaner Production
Keoleian, Gregory A. 1993. The Application of Life Cycle Assessment to Design. Journal of Cleaner Production 1(3-4): 143-149.