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What is Life Cycle Analysis?

By Jessica Reed
Updated May 17, 2024
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A life cycle analysis, also known as life cycle assessment, evaluates how a certain product or service being performed will effect the environment. Companies often use this type of analysis to map out several different procedures to see which would cause the least harm to the environment. There are several advantages and disadvantages associated with using life cycle analysis.

Life cycle analysis is a simple process, though the results can become complicated and require careful attention to detail. For example, a company producing a new product may be concerned about the effects of manufacturing on the environment. The company will then draw up an analysis for each manufacturing or production process currently available to them. They will chart the manufacturing process and subsequent effects from start to finish and see which causes the least harm.

There are four main phases used when mapping out life cycle analysis. They are goal and scope, life cycle inventory, life cycle impact assessment, and the final stage known as interpretation. The process starts with goal and scope. The company performing the assessment decides what the goal of the assessment is and what factors will be included in the assessment.

In the second stage, the life cycle inventory stage, data is collected and various models used to make educated guesses on the outcomes of the different manufacturing and production methods the company can use. The results are charted and recorded. They can then be examined in the next step, life cycle impact assessment.

In the life cycle impact assessment phase, the company evaluates the results and determines how the different methods affect various areas. For example, the company may examine a certain model to see its possible impacts on global warming or air pollution levels in the area. Finally, the company will move to the last stage, interpretation. In this final step, conclusions are drawn about whether the procedure is worth it and if the company can find a less harmful method to follow.

There are several advantages to the life cycle analysis. The main advantage is that it allows companies to see what effect their actions have on the environment and allows them to choose the least harmful course of action. The disadvantage of this, however, comes with the fact that not everything can be turned into a model. There are factors that cannot be predicted, and unexpected consequences can arise no matter how carefully a course of action has been planned out.

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Discussion Comments

By horsebite — On Aug 19, 2011

@emtbasic - You're right about it being a growth industry. Pretty much every company that makes things in the U.S. is doing this kind of analysis now.

I write life cycle analysis software, and we have been very busy lately, even in the bad economy. Everyone either wants or needs to be right on top of how their processes and products can harm the environment. Some do it out of a sense of responsibility, some do it because they don't want to get fined or sued by the EPA.

Either way, I have job security for a long time to come. Even though every project is different, with well-written software you can model the outcomes of most common manufacturing processes. You just need smart people to interpret the data when you're done.

By emtbasic — On Aug 18, 2011

It seems like this would be a good source of high-paying jobs in the future, when this kind of thing is more common. The environment is really coming into focus these days, so it stands to reason that more and more companies are going to want to do a life cycle analysis to track the impact of their products, either voluntarily or because of laws and regulations.

My mom always used to get on my case in school to take as much math and science as possible. Like so many kids, I did the opposite, and now I wish I hadn't. These kind of high-tech jobs are more and more the wave of the future.

By bigjim — On Aug 17, 2011

I think that we are going to see a lot of this kind of thing as more companies are held accountable for their manufactured goods throughout the product life cycle.

A good example is computer gear and cars. Both of these are major products with billions of dollars worth sold every year. Both of them have a large quantity of recyclable materials in them, both have the potential to cause a lot of pollution, and both of them are currently thrown into landfills or junkyards a lot of the time.

Some countries are now starting to hold manufacturers more responsible for what happens to their cars and electronic equipment all the way through the product life.

In these countries, the companies are setting up recycling centers, developing programs to collect and properly handle the discarded products, and educating consumers. In order to do this, they need to figure out when and how people are getting rid of their used-up items, so a life cycle analysis is the perfect tool for this kind of program.

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