Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a scientific method for measuring the environmental footprint of materials, products and services over their entire lifetime.

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The whole-life approach from resource extraction through manufacturing, transportation, installation, use, maintenance and disposal or recycling provides critical long-term information affecting design and manufacturing decisions.

At the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, LCA is applied to construction products, building assemblies, whole structures, building portfolios and highways. Athena is North America’s leader in bringing the quantified environmental footprint science of LCA to the built environment.

Life cycle assessment is often referred to as cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle analysis and is essential for making green decisions, whether in product manufacturing or in building design. It is life cycle thinking applied to a product: what is involved to make a product and transport it to an installation site; what inputs and waste will occur related to using the product over its life, and what will happen to the product when it is no longer needed? Without measured data, we can only guess about the true footprint of our choices.

Life cycle thinking enables consideration of trade-offs; one decision affects other elements in the larger picture. For example, if we increase recycled content in a product, have we created a problem for further recycling or disposal later? Sometimes environmental decisions simply shift the burden to another part of the life cycle. LCA ensures a comprehensive perspective to help avoid this.

Life cycle thinking isn’t about distinguishing good products from bad products. It’s about informed decision-making. More data enables better tools for decisions. Everything has environmental impact. LCA enables informed consideration of those impacts.

Who Does LCA & Why?
Read about the business incentives for LCA >

LCA in Construction Practice
Read about the current status of LCA in design and construction >

Technical Details
Read about what LCA is measuring >

LCA, LCI, LCIA, LCC: What’s the Difference?
Read more about the differences >

LCA Summary
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