A life-cycle assessment does not usually claim to be completely accurate from a scientific point of view. There are often too many variables and imponderabilities. What are important are the criteria used by those who want to use the assessments for advice on how best to do business. Life-cycle assessments are actively supported by the aluminium industry.
The four stages of a life-cycle assessment
Life-cycle assessments shed light on the overall effects on the environment. They consider the complete life cycle of a material: production including acquisition of the raw materials, processing, utilisation of the product including its benefits and recycling/reprocessing or disposal. The life-cycle assessment is thereby also divided into four stages:
- Definition of the aim of the life-cycle assessment with a precise conceptual framework and a definition of who the study is aimed at (target group). It is also important here to know whether the study is intended for publication or internal use.
- Review of the situation for all stages of the life cycle. Where a comparison is made with other products, attention should be given to ensuring the data are completely comparable.
- Analysis of environmentally unfriendly effects (for example CO2 emissions, quantity of waste, contaminants in water, health risks, etc.).
- Interpretation/evaluation of the results from an ecological point of view.
ISO Standard 14044
ISO Standard 14044 defines the requirements and methods for conducting a life-cycle assessment. In the review of the situation, all consumption and emission data of ecological relevance are recorded. In the analysis, the data recorded in the review are aggregated and evaluated with respect to their environmental compatibility and impact. The final evaluation summarises the results and makes a corresponding recommendation. The results are often considered from different viewpoints.
A thorough assessment is essential
A life-cycle assessment does not usually claim to be completely accurate from a scientific point of view. There are often too many variables and imponderabilities. What are important are the criteria used by those who want to use the assessments for advice on how best to do business, such as a packaging plant that wants to know if it makes ecological sense or not for it to change over to aluminium packaging.