The LCA method is standardized on an international level (via ISO 14040/14044) and involves a systematic review of all processes in the chain, from extraction of the raw materials through to disposal as waste. This approach is often referred to as following the product from "cradle to grave."
The LCA can also be limited to specific parts of the life cycle, such as from the manufacturer to the distribution chain or consumer. The impacts on the environment are summarized and stated per unit of a product or service — known as the "functional unit."
The LCA method does not cover all types of environmental impact. It also requires several simplifications and is linked with an element of uncertainty, especially when applied to biological processes that are difficult to monitor and that involve significant natural variation.
NIBIO chose to establish the LCA method as part of the institute's toolbox because it allows several impact types to be summarized in an internationally standardized and recognized set of indicators, because it provides access to comprehensive databases on which new analyses can be built, and because both industry and government agencies require analyses based on this method. Establishing skills and tools of this nature with a view to aiding the development of sustainable bio-based industries is a clear element of NIBIO's objectives.