Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) began in the 1960s in the USA, when concerns over the limitations of raw materials and energy resources sparked an interest in finding ways to cumulatively account for energy use and to project future resource supplies and use.
In 1969, researchers initiated an internal study for The Coca-Cola Company that laid the foundation for the current methods of life cycle inventory analysis in the United States. The study compared different beverage containers to determine which had the lowest releases to the environment and least affected the supply of natural resources. It quantified the raw materials and fuels used for each container, along with the environmental loadings from the manufacturing processes.
Interest in LCA waned from 1975 through the early 1980’s, because environmental concerns shifted to issues of hazardous and household waste management. But when solid waste became a worldwide issue in 1988, LCA again emerged as a tool for analysing environmental problems.
By 1991, concerns over the inappropriate use by product manufacturers, of LCAs, to make broad marketing claims made it clear that uniform methods for conducting such assessments were needed. A consensus was also required on how this type of environmental comparison could be advertised non-deceptively. At the same time, pressure was growing from a number of environmental organisations to standardise LCA methodology. This led to the development of the LCA standards in the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14000 series (1997 through 2006).
In 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined forces with the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) to launch the Life Cycle Initiative as an international partnership. The Initiative has three programs, which aim to put life cycle thinking into practice and improve the supporting tools through better data and indicators. They are the:
Life Cycle Management (LCM) program. Creates awareness and improves skills of decision-makers by producing information materials, establishing forums for sharing best practice, and carrying out training programs in all parts of the world.
Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) program. Improves global access to transparent, high quality life cycle data by hosting and facilitating expert groups whose work results in web-based information systems.
Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) program. Increases the quality and global reach of life cycle indicators by promoting the exchange of views among experts whose work results in a set of widely accepted recommendations.