Life-cycle Analysis (LCA): Why it matters now
- and why it will matter in our future
by Terry Campbell • Sustainable Wood Consultant • Forest Products Solutions
In this three part series I describe the emerging and changing world of Life-cycle Analysis (LCA). The first column is dedicated to answering the question: What is it (LCA)? The second column focuses on the intricate elements that are used to complete the analysis. And this, the third column explores the long-term impact of LCA on the building industry.

LCA is certainly becoming one of the hot button topics in the field of green building and green/eco product development. I believe this is a result of our need as human beings, in the 21st century, to require that everything be quantified from sales numbers to Twitter followers. I mean, some Twitter users actually count how many people are following them. 
That seems creepy, doesn’t? 
Another issue that LCA attempts to make more user-friendly is condensing the large amount of information required to understand a product’s origins, its manufacturing side effects, and disposal. This can be very challenging with some products as they are manufactured from a number of complex components. However, using a Kiln-Dried Douglas-fir 2x4 as an example, one can see the power of further developing these inclusive LCA tools that can provide us with the ‘real-skinny’ in a simple and digestible format, so that we can make more informed decisions.
Look at a Kiln-Dried Douglas-fir 2x4 in your local lumberyard. Now imagine a system that would allow you to evaluate the forest management used to grow the Douglas-fir; the social impact of its harvest on the surrounding communities; the energy source used by the mill to turn the log into lumber; the steam source used to dry the lumber; and the source of transportation to the store. It is easy to understand how this information, if portrayed in a clear and visual manner, would affect the purchasing of some products over others. 
Many in this developing industry envision a time in the future when building products will carry the equivalent of a USDA ‘Nutrition Facts’ label as seen on your common box of cereal. The difference would be that the information on a building product label would describe the impacts – positive and negative – of the raw material extraction, manufacturing (side-effects), use, and disposal.
The challenge to this emerging industry is to ensure credibility can be found in the LCA tools/programs that are being used. With several LCA tools/programs being developed by a number of organizations it is clear that not all of them will be created equally. 
For instance, the specific components that an LCA tool/program might choose to measure are not universally agreed upon, so they will likely feature components that reflect the developing organization’s own value-set and mission. In practice, this can mean that some truly relevant details will be left out of an LCA tool/program because the developing organization is simply not interested in providing the full picture.
In the past this has happened when forest products are measured against steel and concrete. Now everyone knows it takes a lot less energy, less pollution, etcetera, to manufacturer and use wood products when compared to steel or concrete. However, many of the LCA tools/programs that have made the wood versus steel/concrete a no-brainer have not included in their measurement the difference between various types of forestry and the possible negative impacts of those practices. 
The forest products industry has an excellent story to tell about its products from an LCA perspective, but only if the LCA tools/programs used to measure those wood products include the forest management system, too. 
It is a guarantee that in coming years, green building programs will be asking all building material industries to find credible methods for backing up their eco/green product manufacturing claims. This will either be done through product certification systems (such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for wood products) or a more inclusive system using the theory and philosophy of life-cycle analysis as the foundation. 
Stay tuned in to stay educated about these evolving standards.

Forest Products Solutions provides companies with the services and tools to improve the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of FSC-certified and related green building products. 
To learn more about Terry Campbell and Forest Products Solutions, visit the

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Life Cycle Analysis, Pt. 1

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