3 myths about product life cycle assessments

Depending on what you read in the green building press right now, you could be left with the impression that life cycle assessment (LCA) is either the next big thing or fatally flawed and missing key criteria for evaluating green building products.

On one hand, the major overhaul of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED v4) standard, due out in November, will write LCA into the world's dominant green building standard at both the building and product level. On the other hand, green building advocates have been quick to critique the ease with which LCA can be used for greenwashing, the questionable quality of the data it generates and its failure to include life cycle toxicity impacts.

As a building products company that has used LCA since 2000, Interface has a strong interest in having LCA understood and applied correctly. Like most companies who employ LCA, we have used it first and foremost as an internal tool in R&D for evaluating proposed changes to our processes and materials.

From its origins as a tool to help companies understand resource use during the oil crisis of the 1970s, LCA has evolved into a serious academic discipline, with peer reviewed papers, academic journals and professional accreditation. Today, LCA is a powerful tool for understanding the full life cycle (cradle-to-grave) environmental impacts of our decisions, both for companies and for consumers, but only if it is used correctly.

"LCA doesn't do everything, but it does the things it's intended to do very well," says Connie Hensler, our global director of LCA programs and a certified LCA professional.

With LCA being built into everything from LEED to the Good Guide and Walmart Sustainability Index, it is in all of our interests to understand a bit more about what we're looking at. Here are three persistent myths about LCA. There is a grain of truth in each, but also a fundamental misunderstanding.

Next page: Myth No. 1: Greenwash

Magnifying glass image by Laborant via Shutterstock.