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Footprint: Relation to LCA

What is LCA?

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a technique to assess the impact of products and human activities on the environment. For the assessment special mathematical models are used. LCA takes into account the entire life cycle of a product or activity. From the extraction of raw materials through production and (re)use to disposal (from cradle to grave, now often called 'cradle to cradle' due to emphasis on reuse). Because LCA involves a chain of processes (often at different locations) it is considered as a kind of chain analysis.

LCA consists of a number of steps. The main steps are:

- LCI (life cycle inventory): in this step information is collected about the harmful substances that are emitted during the life cycle and the raw materials used in the life cycle. Also other environmental interventions, like the production of noise or odour, can be part of the LCI.

- LCIA (life cycle impact assessment): in this step the data inventory is assessed. This creates a full picture of the environmental impact assignable directly or indirectly to a product or activity.

- Environmental profile: a LCA study results in an environmental profile, which is a 'scorecard' of environmental impacts. The environmental profile shows which environmental impacts play the most important roles in the life cycle. These effects can be tackled first. Whether or not a measure will be effective can be calculated in advance.

Used in combination with related tools LCA delivers a concrete picture of the possibilities to adapt ones business. The consequences of each alternative are systematically assessed as well.

Initially, LCA has been developed to evaluate products. For example, the "Eco label" is based on LCA. LCA can be deployed much wider. As soon as the life cycle of a product or an environmental profile plays a role, LCA is of interest.

Relation footprint to LCA

The relationship between footprint and LCA is that a footprint is a simplification compared to a LCA. The carbon footprint focuses exclusively on greenhouse gas emissions. The Global Footprint focuses also on land use. Acidification or toxicity is not taken into account in a footprint, because both have no direct or indirect relationship with CO2 equivalents or square meters.