Life cycle thinking

The basic principle of life cycle thinking is that the environmental impacts of a product include not just the environmental impacts of the manufacturing process (direct impacts) but also all of the environmental impacts that a product has at other stages of its life both before and after manufacture (indirect impacts). The objective is to establish the total impacts that result from the manufacture and use of a product, i.e. the product’s impacts “from cradle to grave”.

Life cycle thinking has changed people’s understanding of environmental impacts and also the way in which environmental impacts are studied. It  also forms the basis of many national and international sustainable development and environmental policies and has become a widely recognised approach to dealing with environmental issues.

In addition to standardised life cycle assessment (the ISO 14040 series), there are several other methods for evaluating environmental impacts that are based on life cycle thinking these days. Simplified footprint calculation tools have also been adopted in recent years, which focus on specific environmental impacts or emission classes, such as water, carbon or phosphorus footprints. For more information on the subject, see Life cycle assessment, footprints and input–output model.

More information

Senior Researcher Sirkka Koskela, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE,

Published 2014-01-13 at 12:13, updated 2014-01-13 at 13:16