Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systematic analysis of the ecological impact of a product, process, or service over its entire life journey »from the cradle to the grave.« This covers all environmental impacts arising during production, the usage phase, and disposal, as well as the connected upstream and downstream processes such as the extraction and production of raw materials, auxiliaries, or fuels. Life Cycle Assessment can be used as a tool for ecologically oriented decisions. It serves the development and improvement of products. This method is also used in strategic planning, in political policymaking processes, and for marketing. Life Cycle Assessment is an element of Life Cycle Engineering and is standardized in DIN EN ISO 14040/44.
The basic procedure for carrying out a Life Cycle Assessment on the one hand comprises analysis of the material and energy flows of an overall product system, including all processes involved over the entire life journey of a product; and on the other hand the systematic registration of emissions in air, water, and soil, and of resources derived from nature that are registered in a so-called Life Cycle Inventory. Potential ecological effects such as the greenhouse effect, summer smog, acidification, overfertilization etc. are then evaluated in the course of an »impact assessment.«