On transparency and responsibility in LCA practice

In a recent article in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Saade and colleagues have analysed all papers that draw on data from the popular LCI database ecoinvent. Their findings are food for thought.

Version 3 of ecoinvent offers modelling options and tutorials on how to make the best modelling decisions for a study’s goals, such as on allocation and recycling options. This is highly relevant, but it seems that most users are using an earlier version of the database that does not include modelling guidance. The authors note that “about 70% of LCA practitioners continued to use earlier versions of ecoinvent after version 3 was launched in 2013”. This becomes problematic in light of the other observation made by Saade and colleagues: more and more studies are carried out by people without proper awareness of the intricacies of sound modeling. By analysing authorship of LCA papers, it was found that the number of studies conducted by non-specialists have surpassed those conducted by LCA specialists. This means that many use LCA for an investigation and merely scratch the surface of understanding the entire model.

All ecoinvent users should take the necessary time to understand system modelling and report their methodological choices in a transparent manner according to Saade and colleagues. This might be the reason that some organisations have moved toward creating certification programs for LCA practitioners. Certification of LCA practitioners exist, for example, both in New Zealand, Australia and in the US. When seasoned LCA specialists like Martin Baitz at Thinkstep worry about irresponsible LCA practices that has in one case led to a lawsuit, we can be sure that we have not seen the end of confusion and debate with a spreading practice of LCA. Here, industrial ecologists well trained in LCA methodology will be important to keep practices and debate on a sound level.

References / more information
Baitz, M. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2019) 24: 179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1558-1
Saade, M.R.M., Gomes, V., da Silva, M.G. et al. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2019) 24: 1. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1509-x
Examples of certifications for LCA practicioners:

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