In recent years, a substantial increase in the use of new environmentally friendly products has been perceived on the basis of a careful LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), both in the construction and industrial fields.
With the implementation of the European directives on building products (European Directive 89/106, implemented in Italy with Presidential Decree No. 246 of 21 April 1993 and replaced by European Regulation 305/11, which entered into full force on 1 July 2013) also the field of construction has begun to pay more and more attention to sustainable materials, a choice that was previously exclusively adopted by the industrial field.
We find some examples on the market today, such as: cellulose fiber panels, paints based on natural pigments, recycled structural panels, panels reinforced with wood, straw and concrete, recycled stone products that derive from limestone waste and specific plastics , sheep wool-based insulation, products that adopt regenerated bituminous membranes and many more.
The Life Cycle Assessment, in Italian “analysis of the life cycle”, is an analytical and systematic methodology that evaluates a set of interactions that a product or service has with the environment, considering its entire life cycle; including the points of pre-production (therefore also extraction and production of materials), production, distribution and use, its recycling and final disposal; the analysis therefore includes the entire useful life of the product, therefore often referred to as the “cradle to grave” analysis.
The reference guidelines for an LCA are the ISO 14040 series standards.
LCA can be considered as a tool to evaluate the potential environmental impact associated with the life cycle of a product or process or activity, using the quantification of the use of resources (“inputs” such as energy, raw materials, water ) and emissions to the environment (“emissions” to air, water and soil) associated with the system being assessed.
This system still has limitations as it adopts models to analyze the environmental impact; however, the results of an LCA are based on global data that may not adapt to local applications and its accuracy is sometimes limited by poor data quality. Nonetheless, today it remains one of the most reliable methods for evaluating a product or activity in its interactions with the environment.
The LCA allows to dissect the complexity of the entire life cycle, thus allowing to identify which are the phases with the greatest impact and which require interventions. The LCA can be considered a blueprint for the improvement of both existing and new products.
The LCA results can be used to compare similar or different products but with the same function, to request environmental certifications and to communicate the environmental performance of the product.
The relevance of LCA techniques lies mainly in their innovative approach, which consists in being able to evaluate all phases of a production process “from the cradle to the grave” as correlated and dependent: among the tools for analyzing industrial systems, the LCA has taken on an important role in recent years and is growing strongly in terms of national and international technical uses.
At an international level, the LCA methodology is regulated by the ISO 14040 series standards, in which a study of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is structured on the basis of the following work phases:
Its applications can be numerous: