ISIE Special session

Experiences with and criticisms of LCA as a tool for supporting policies and (bio-energy) performance-based regulation.

Call for papers for the special session:

Since the early 1990s, life cycle assessment (LCA) has increasingly been applied to support public policy making. For example, during the 1990s, LCA was used to support eco-label, certification schemes, policy documents, and packaging legislation in Europe, and to guide the development of alternative-fuel policies in the US.  In the first decade of the 21st century, life cycle thinking and formal LCA continued to grow in importance: In Europe, LCA was incorporated into “Integrated Product Policy”, the thematic strategies on the Sustainable Use of Resources and on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste, and other policy initiatives; in the US, EU, and Canada, several life cycle-based carbon footprint standards and regulations for transportation fuels were established.

However, shortly after LCA began to be used to inform policy making, some researchers and practitioners began to question the validity and usefulness of results from LCA.  In particular, the use of LCA in performance-based regulations (PBRs), such as in the European Renewable Energy Directive and California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standards raised some serious questions with respect to the robustness and reliability of LCA results. For example, some of these PBRs adopted attributional LCA, others consequential LCA, and others a hybrid of these approaches, resulting in different ratings and even altering preference orders for transportation fuels.

In addition, most regulations lack reporting requirements on the uncertainty of the LCA results and subjective choices by the LCA practitioner, which can result in LCA results seeming more certain and scientifically objective than they really are. Recently, a debate was initiated within the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) community of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE) on the benefits and limitations of applying LCA to support design of such public applications. The debate is rooted in the “ISIE approach” towards LCSA, broadening and deepening traditional environmental LCA into a more comprehensive LCSA. LCSA in this approach is a trans-disciplinary framework for integration of models rather than a model in itself. The main focus is structuring, selecting and making the plethora of disciplinary models, including traditional LCA, practically available for application to different types of life cycle sustainability questions.  How this ISIE approach towards LCSA can be applied to support public policy making is another question of interest to the community.

This session invites abstracts addressing experiences with the application of LCA for supporting policies and performance-based regulations. Both case-study based experiences and review-based experiences are welcomed. Moreover, abstracts are welcomed evaluating the role of attributional and/or consequential approaches to LCA (usefulness, limitations, neglected issues, etc.) and presenting alternative broader life-cycle based approaches for supporting such public applications.