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Understanding the environmental impact of products and buildings

As concerns about climate change continue to grow, many organizations and governments are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. One approach that has gained popularity in recent years is the use of lifecycle carbon assessments, which evaluate the environmental impact of products and buildings over their entire lifecycle. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what lifecycle carbon assessments are, why they’re important, and how they can be used to promote sustainability.

What is a lifecycle carbon assessment?

A lifecycle carbon assessment, sometimes called a cradle-to-grave assessment, is a method of evaluating the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with a product or building over its entire lifecycle, from raw material extraction and manufacturing to disposal or recycling. The assessment takes into account all stages of the product or building’s lifecycle, including transportation, use, and end-of-life management.

Lifecycle carbon assessments are typically conducted using a standardized methodology, such as the ISO 14040 series of standards, which provides guidelines for conducting life cycle assessments (LCAs) of products and services. These standards help ensure that LCAs are conducted consistently and transparently, and that the results are comparable across different products or buildings.

Why are lifecycle carbon assessments important?

Lifecycle carbon assessments are important for several reasons. First, they provide a comprehensive picture of the environmental impact of a product or building, including both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. This information can help organizations and governments make informed decisions about how to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability.

Second, lifecycle carbon assessments can help identify “hotspots” in the lifecycle of a product or building where greenhouse gas emissions are particularly high. For example, an assessment of a building might reveal that the majority of emissions occur during the construction phase, highlighting the importance of using sustainable building materials and construction practices.

Finally, lifecycle carbon assessments can be used to compare the environmental impact of different products or buildings, helping consumers and organizations make more sustainable choices. For example, a consumer might use the results of a lifecycle carbon assessment to choose between two similar products, selecting the one with the lower carbon footprint.

How are lifecycle carbon assessments used in practice?

Lifecycle carbon assessments are used in a variety of settings, from product design and manufacturing to building construction and operation. In product design, LCAs can be used to evaluate the environmental impact of different design options and inform decisions about materials and manufacturing processes. In building construction, LCAs can help identify sustainable building materials and practices, and evaluate the impact of different design choices on the building’s overall carbon footprint. Finally, in building operation, LCAs can be used to monitor and improve the energy efficiency of the building, reducing its carbon emissions over time.

One example of how lifecycle carbon assessments are being used in practice is the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), a tool developed by the Carbon Leadership Forum that allows users to compare the embodied carbon emissions of different building materials. By providing transparent and consistent data on the carbon emissions associated with different materials, the EC3 tool helps designers and builders make more sustainable choices.


Lifecycle carbon assessments are an important tool for promoting sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By providing a comprehensive picture of the environmental impact of products and buildings over their entire lifecycle, LCAs can help identify opportunities for reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability. As concerns about climate change continue to grow, it’s likely that the use of lifecycle carbon assessments will become more widespread, helping to create a more sustainable future for all.

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