The concept of life cycle assessment (LCA) originated in the late 1960’s when it became clear that the only sensible way to examine industrial systems was to examine their performance, starting with the extraction of raw materials from the earth and tracing all operations until the final disposal of these materials as wastes back into the earth (cradle to grave).
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the broadest indicator and an internationally standardized method (ISO 14040 and ISO 14044). It not only evaluates the impact on climate change, but also other impact categories such as acidification potential, eutrophication potential, ozone depletion potential, and ground level ozone creation. For each of these impact categories, the product or system is evaluated over its complete life span, from the extraction of raw material and manufacturing, to the use of the product by final consumers and end-of-life processes like recycling, energy recovery, and ultimate waste disposal.
The ISO standards provide robust and practice-proven requirements for performing transparent LCA calculations. Moreover, one can make use of extensive databases containing life cycle profiles of many goods and services, as well as many of the underlying materials, energy resources, transport systems, etc. Nevertheless, LCA calculations remain very complex and should therefore be applied only by professionals and preferably to a specific unit or application, such as a washing machine or a car tire.