WoodLife Environmental Consultants, LLC, has been performing life cycle assessments (LCA) on renewable materials for over 15 years.  WoodLife has been involved in over 22 LCA studies on solid wood products, structural composite panels, glue laminated beams, engineered I-joists, solid wood flooring, engineered flooring and biofuels (liquid and solid).  These studies have been supported through grants from a variety of sources, including the Department of Energy-Biomass Research & Development Initiative USDA/DOE Biomass Research and Development Program, USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Wood Products Australia and CSIRO-Australia, University of Tennessee, University of Wisconsin, Madison, North Carolina State University, Mississippi State University, Oregon State University, and several private companies.  For over 7 years, WoodLife has been an affiliate of CORRIM (Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials) who's mission is to establish, support, and manage research and education programs relating to renewable industrial materials focused on the environmental impact of the production, use, and disposal of wood and other bio-based materials.

What is Life Cycle Assessment?

Life-cycle assessment (LCA), which began in the 1960s has evolve
d as an internationally accepted way to analyze complex impacts and outputs of a product and the corresponding effects on the environment. This state-of-art methodology produces environmental information based on the allocated inputs and outputs to a product. Furthermore, the environmental outcomes can accurately target the source of impacts such as where, when, and how impacts occur through a product’s life. 

LCA is defined as:

“…an objective process to evaluate the environmental burdens associated with a product, process, or activity by identifying and quantifying energy and materials used and wastes released to the environment, to assess the impact of those energy and materials uses and releases on the environment, and to evaluate and " implement opportunities to effect environmental improvements” (SETAC).

There are several guidelines published to conduct LCAs. The most widely accepted methods are set forth in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14000 series of standards (ISO 2006). At every stage during product life, energy and resources are consumed and emissions and waste are released into the environment (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Input and output parameters by life cycle stage of a general product

Defined by ISO, the LCA is a multiphase process consisting of four interrelated steps (Figure 2):

1. Goal definition and scoping,
2. Life cycle inventory (LCI),
3. Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), and
4. Interpretation/ Improvement assessment.

Figure 2: Steps in developing a life cycle assessment