Emerging approaches, challenges and opportunities in life cycle assessment

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Science  06 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6188, pp. 1109-1113
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248361

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In the modern economy, international value chains—production, use, and disposal of goods—have global environmental impacts. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) aims to track these impacts and assess them from a systems perspective, identifying strategies for improvement without burden shifting. We review recent developments in LCA, including existing and emerging applications aimed at supporting environmentally informed decisions in policy-making, product development and procurement, and consumer choices. LCA constitutes a viable screening tool that can pinpoint environmental hotspots in complex value chains, but we also caution that completeness in scope comes at the price of simplifications and uncertainties. Future advances of LCA in enhancing regional detail and accuracy as well as broadening the assessment to economic and social aspects will make it more relevant for producers and consumers alike.

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