A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a standardised framework that governs how we measure the environmental impact of a product or material. It is a cradle-to-grave analysis looking at the impacts through a product’s full life cycle, including; raw material, extraction, materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, end-of-life, and beyond.
To understand how LCAs can be useful to interior designers, we will run through an example.
For an armchair, an LCA would inform you of the impacts of the raw materials used in the armchair, the transport of these materials to the factory, the production of the armchair through the manufacturing process, then the transport to the site where it will be used, which may be for example be via train, plane, or vehicle. It will also provide information on the item during the use stage, for example the environmental impacts of the maintenance and repair of the armchair, including any operational energy and water use involved in cleaning the chair. Finally, the LCA could include the suggested end-of-life of the product, so whether it is suitable for re-use as a product, re-use as separate materials, recycling of materials, or disposal in some other way such as incineration or landfill.
There are different product categories in the market, and in LCA formats they have relevant Product Category Rules (PCRs) which standardise the information and allow comparison between the LCA of two products within the same product category. We especially love the pasta related PCR but it does not help us understand the impacts of wallpaper!
LCAs can support the creation of an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), the document which transparently reports on the environmental impact of a product or material over its lifetime. An EPD is an important tool that we should be using to inform us to make sustainable design decisions. To find out more about EPDs, see our blog on the topic here: https://grigoriou.co.uk/blog/what_is_an_epd/