Environmental Assessment

Life Cycle Assessment for Electronics

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCAs) is a systematic method for analyzing product environmental impact. They are powerful tools for improving the processes by which something comes to market. The complexity of electronics makes them good candidates to address such areas of concern during production. LCAs can vary widely in format and implementation, and no two are quite the same.

The EnviroPass Method

Our team can transform your production processes. We use your supply, fabrication, transportation, and disposal data to create a profile of your product. Then, we work with international databases to assess the weight of environmental impacts for every step of production. Finally, we use industry-leading software to construct manageable and attainable goals for improving your costs and flows.

What is Life Cycle Assessment?

Life cycle assessments combine qualitative and quantitative factors to describe the impacts of a product, service, or process. They have subsumed Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), which use only qualitative analysis and do not traditionally assign values or weights to flow factors. 

A robust analysis will have a well-defined scope and purpose. Experts construct a detailed product model by considering the channels through which a finished product must travel. Information is then collected to classify the materials, energies, and wastes of the processes associated with this product. Modern technology allows us to build datasets by consulting databases across many different sectors worldwide.

Life Cycle Assessment of Electronics
Power Plant

Principles of Life Cycle Assessments

A good life cycle assessment will begin by clearly defining the purpose of the analysis. LCAs can be time-consuming and resource intensive, especially for complicated products. Well-articulated goals ensure that any subsequent research does not get overwhelmed by details. On the other hand a sharp, focused plan of action helps strengthen the credibility of any results obtained.

LCA Lyfe Cycle Assessment

Furthermore, analysts will set boundaries on which life cycle phases get considered. For example, exhaustive LCAs will consider each step of production across all life phases. Such a framework is known as a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment. Your LCA may need to consider only a small subset of processes or perhaps just a specific timeframe.

The principles and execution of life cycle assessments have been standardized under ISO 14040 and ISO 14044, though compliance is not mandatory.

Life Cycle Assessments: Scope and Length

Of course, creating a piece of modern consumer electronics can involve countless processes. Consider a simple wristwatch: the watchmaker must first buy raw materials extracted from around the globe. These inputs must then be processed, transported, and reprocessed several times.

Raw Material Ore
Product Life Cycle - Environment

Eventually, the customer may throw the watch away, and it will join the millions of tons of e-waste landfilled annually. In this case, the LCA may target any quantifiable improvements per wristwatch. This type of focus quantifies the wristwatch as the functional unit of the LCA. This term refers to the smallest indivisible unit considered in the study.

LCA Phases

Modern analysts categorize an LCA timeframe into broad phases. While the phase boundaries can vary between auditors, each undoubtedly offers an opportunity for critique – and often, improvement.

Resources are raw materials that come from natural deposits around the globe. Extraction techniques include digging, blasting, pumping, etc. Sometimes, post-extraction processes like smelting or filtering get included here.


The Manufacturing phase considers the processes required to create the final product from raw materials. Intermediate processes also fall into this category, along with many waste by-products.


The Transportation phase (otherwise known as distribution) occurs when the product is ready to leave the factory or the office. Packing and shipping processes occur here according to their energy and resource demands. Other metrics considered at this stage include marketing impact and the carbon footprint of transporting goods.

Transportation of Goods LCA

Active Use refers to the time starting when a customer buys or begins using the product. Clearly, the bulk of this phase belongs to the new product owner while they enjoy their purchase. Maintenance and aftermarket repair services belong in this phase, regardless of who performs them.  


Finally, every physical good has an End-of-Life. Whether it gets recycled, scrapped, or thrown in a landfill, this phase considers the steps involved in transporting a product to its final resting place. Secondary services like elemental recovery or municipal drop-off sites are also detailed here.

Categories of Analysis for LCAs

To summarize, a life cycle assessment begins with a period dedicated to laying crucial groundwork. A well-bounded scope, together with a thoughtful and detailed plan of action, will define the structure and approach of the analysis. Once data collection begins, experts conducting an LCA usually follow three main steps.

The first step is the Inventory Analysis. Chiefly, it is an enumeration of all inputs used for creating a product. Depending on the LCA’s timeframe, we may consider any period from raw materials to end-of-life. Each phase gets assessed according to any processes that require energy or resources.

Enviropass resources
Life Cycle Assessement Make this World Better

The second phase is the Impact Analysis. Completing the inventory will likely result in a list of processes associated with the product and relevant timeframe. This next step helps categorize the list and allows us to quantify any process outputs, including unwanted by-products.

Usually, categories are specific enough so that the analysis maintains direction and relevance. However, they must also be open-ended enough so that we can include every process. Therefore, performing the impact analysis is a particularly delicate exercise. Strong execution of this critical step requires foresight and creativity.

Finally, the Improvement Analysis lays out measurable, attainable goals for mitigating environmental impact. The LCA may uncover areas of production that require special attention; outdated exhaust treatment systems and transportation redundancies are some examples. Consequently, the improvement analysis should result in a straightforward plan for tackling these issues. Improvements should be quantifiable and expressed via the LCA’s functional unit.

Why is LCA important?

LCAs have become popular tools for optimizing product ecodesign. Identifying the costs, inputs, and losses associated with a product provides deeper insight into the methods used for bringing it to market. However, collecting and organizing the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming.

Therefore, a well-designed LCA allows us to classify, analyze, and deconstruct the steps in a production process. Quality assessments using modern methods are easy to maintain. Experts construct them layer-by-layer to provide a range of perspectives according to their needs.

Life Cycle Assessment Electronics

How do you Conduct a Life Cycle Assessment?

Clearly, the more you know about your product, the better your model becomes. A product bill of materials (BOM) is a great starting point. Other valuable considerations include supply chain, environmental regulation, transportation, and warehousing information.

LCA databases include many variations on factors that can help fine-tune your analysis. For example, valuable metals (like iron) used in industry exist in many states. A company may buy high-quality ingots for casting its flagship product. During production, machining operations may generate waste filings or shavings.

In an LCA, the ingots and the waste would occupy separate categories. Though the two materials have the same chemical composition, they have different flows and costs associated with their processes. Therefore, they must occupy different roles within the analysis.

What do I Need to Create an LCA?

If you feel you might need to assess a product or service that your company provides, start by gathering as much information as you can:

  • What sort of information does the BOM contain? Does each of your components have traceable supply chains?
  • Where do you source your materials or intermediate products? What steps are needed to get them to your door?
  • What are the different shipping channels you use to manage flows? Do you have the same depth of information for each channel?
  • Do you have a final product that requires packaging? Can you trace the sources of your package materials?
  • Do your packaging and production processes occur in the same plant? Is there extra shipping involved?
  • Does your product have an end-of-life plan, like recycling alliances or designated disposal sites? Which channels exist for your product to be repurposed, recycled, or recovered?
  • Do you wish to consider standards compliance under the ISO 14040 family?
LCA of devices

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.

Are you ready to learn more about product life cycle assessments? Contact Enviropass and connect with one of our experts.