Life Cycle Assessment - a quick overview


Azul Stengel Co-founder of Lienzo

Photo by Ian Talmacs

I am sure that at one point or another when working in the fashion industry or sustainability, we have all heard the acronym LCA or, in French, ACV. What we will try to do in this article is to briefly explain what these mean.

The Life-Cycle Analysis was first introduced by the European Commission, through the European Platform of LCA with the objective of obtaining reliable information on the environmental impact of finished textile products to be used by industry and policymakers. As part of the EU Green Deal, the overarching aim is to first measure the environmental impact, inform the consumers via labels, and foster the transition towards a more sustainable and circular economy (1). 

Pretty straightforward right? Well, not really.

Not only are there several methodologies to measure the LCA of a product, it is extremely cost-prohibitive and resource-intensive to conduct an LCA study: hundreds of data points, usually replaced by proxies, need to be collected in order to provide an estimate of the impacts related to the materials (2). Not only are there different methodological approaches, there are also different stages at which the collocation of data needs to happen:

The 5 Steps of a Product Life Cycle (Cradle to Grave)(3)


This example considers Cradle-to-Grave, but other models analyze Cradle-to-Cradle (a circular approach) or Cradle-to-gate (does not consider end-of-life and waste disposal). These methodologies of course will impact the measurements and will consider, or not, the environmental impact at the different stages of the product’s life.

We can take the example of a simple white cotton shirt. To analyse the LCA one would have to gather information the environmental impact at every level such as:

This is a good example because it shows the complexity of LCA on a small scale - what happens when products are more complex? When there are different raw materials, different treatments, production spread out across the globe, different selling and distribution points, and end-of-life alternatives?

This information could be used to enable comparisons between different textile materials and products, however, how can the comparison be reliable when the methodologies are different? 

That is where regulation steps in: in order to have comparable results between garments and final products at European and local levels, different methodologies are tied to the LCA requirements. 

‍French Environmental Labeling: ADEME project to give ABCDE scores to the product from an LCA, but only on two impact indicators- carbon emissions and Eutrophication (the gradual increase in the concentration of phosphorus, nitrogen, and other plant nutrients in an aging aquatic ecosystem)‍

PEF (European Environmental Labeling): a European project with a more precise method that would give a score in points from the 16 impact criteria. (4)

These scores in themselves are today being analyzed as part of the overall regulatory landscape and will surely evolve in the coming years. At the French level, the AGEC regulation will involve an environmental score that considers the LCA, and at the European level, the PEF will surely be absorbed by the EPREL. The main reason behind this stems from the fact that, as new regulation comes into play, the EU aims at having a more standardized data collection process and labeling system. This will help with the issues highlighted before: it will provide comparable and reliable scores that will allow consumers to make decisions based on this information not only at a local level but at an international scale. Furthermore, it aims at enlarging the scope of impact analysis, including new environmental metrics and social impact assessment.