The evolution of life cycle assessment in European policies over three decades - BRGM - Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières Access content directly
Journal Articles International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment Year : 2021

The evolution of life cycle assessment in European policies over three decades


Purpose Life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA) are increasingly considered pivotal concept and method for supporting sustainable transitions. LCA plays a relevant role in decision support, for the ambition of a holistic coverage of environmental dimensions and for the identification of hotspots, possible trade-offs, and burden shifting among life cycle stages or impact categories. These features are also relevant when the decision support is needed in policy domain. With a focus on EU policies, the present study explores the evolution and implementation of life cycle concepts and approaches over three decades. Methods Adopting an historical perspective, a review of current European Union (EU) legal acts and communications explicitly mentioning LCT, LCA, life cycle costing (LCC), and environmental footprint (the European Product and Organisation Environmental Footprint PEF/OEF) is performed, considering the timeframe from 1990 to 2020. The documents are categorised by year and according to their types (e.g. regulations, directives, communications) and based on the covered sectors (e.g. waste, energy, buildings). Documents for which life cycle concepts and approaches had a crucial role are identified, and a shortlist of these legal acts and communications is derived. Results and discussion Over the years, LCT and life cycle approaches have been increasingly mentioned in policy. From the Ecolabel Regulation of 1992, to the Green Deal in 2019, life cycle considerations are of particular interest in the EU. The present work analysed a total of 159 policies and 167 communications. While in some sectors (e.g. products, vehicles, and waste) life cycle concepts and approaches have been adopted with higher levels of prescriptiveness, implementation in other sectors (e.g. food and agriculture) is only at a preliminary stage. Moreover, life cycle (especially LCT) is frequently addressed and cited only as a general concept and in a rather generic manner. Additionally, more stringent and rigorous methods (LCA, PEF/OEF) are commonly cited only in view of future policy developments, even if a more mature interest in lifecycle is evident in recent policies. Conclusion The EU has been a frontrunner in the implementation of LCT/LCA in policies. However, despite a growing trend in this implementation, the development of new stringent and mandatory requirements related to life cycle is still relatively limited. In fact, there are still issues to be solved in the interface between science and policy making (such as verification and market surveillance) to ensure a wider implementation of LCT and LCA.
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Dates and versions

hal-03746449 , version 1 (05-08-2022)



Serenella Sala, Andrea Martino Amadei, Antoine Beylot, Fulvio Ardente. The evolution of life cycle assessment in European policies over three decades. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2021, 26 (12), pp.2295 - 2314. ⟨10.1007/s11367-021-01893-2⟩. ⟨hal-03746449⟩


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