The ISO 14040 Family

Manufacturers that wish to optimize their production may decide to carry out a life cycle assessment (LCA) of their products or processes. These studies are systematic methods for analyzing product environmental impact. LCAs are especially useful for supply chain optimization and waste reduction. ISO standard 14040 comprises the core principles and framework of life cycle assessments.

Why ISO 14040?

Eventually, every product will break down and require replacement or disposal. If we understand the methods used to help a product come to market, we can gain insight into opportunities for improvement. LCAs are an evolution of traditional environmental impact analysis; analysts use the ISO 14040 family to standardize their approach.

ISO 14040

In fact, two flagship documents in the ISO 14040 family comprise the various aspects of LCAs. The primary standard is ISO 14040, which defines a life cycle assessment and how it gets constructed. ISO 14044 is a related standard that describes more specific guidelines. It also lays out requirements for data collection and analysis. Collectively, the documents provide everything needed to perform a modern LCA.

The ISO 14040 and 14044 Categories

Each of the two documents covers four broad categories with varying degrees of depth:

  • General description of an LCA
  • Methodological Framework
  • Reporting
  • Critical Review

The General Description of an LCA lays out the fundamental reasoning, purpose, and structure of a life cycle assessment. Together with a comprehensive glossary, this category defines what makes the LCA an effective analytical tool. Essentially, it provides us with the resources for constructing our own systematic analysis. LCA principles, features, and primary phases get included here.

Once we begin constructing our assessment, the Methodological Framework ensures that our protocol follows best practices. This section provides general requirements for proper analysis. In addition, it defines procedures for setting the goal and scope of the LCA. Finally, this section provides guidelines for conducting the three main stages of a life cycle assessment.

Life Cycle Analysis ISO 14040
Life Cycle Assessment

The remaining two categories, Reporting and Critical Review. These sections address the importance of rigor when collecting data and calculating results. Compliance with ISO 14040 requires thorough documentation of the analytical process. This process includes extensive stock and flow information, reference tracing, and the effective use of databases and impact models.

Results should be accessible to relevant staff (and the general public, if applicable). The methods and outcomes of the LCA will yield the most effective results when subjected to professional scrutiny. A life cycle assessment is a scientific approach like any other: maintaining transparency is an easy way to improve the quality and effectiveness of the study.

How to Achieve Compliance?

Manufacturers may choose to follow ISO 14040 guidelines internally. They may also opt to seek third-party certification for their analysis. Importantly, these are not mandatory actions, although official ISO 14040 accreditation has its advantages.

Before you carry out an LCA for your product, it is prudent to perform some groundwork to ensure an effective process. Good information to have on hand includes:

  • environmental regulations in your home country
  • a component breakdown or bill of materials of the completed product
  • any chemical or elemental composition data provided by suppliers
  • supplier and fabricator information, including transport costs and local environmental regulations
  • warehouse and packaging information, including energies and resources dedicated solely to internal product handling
  • end-of-life outlets for your products, especially recycling or recovery strategies

Typically, this information feeds into a specialized LCA software suite. Such platforms are readily available, and LCA experts use them to create custom analyses for studying products and optimizing processes.

Does your production process need some re-examining? Contact Enviropass to see how you can conduct your LCA according to recognized international standards.