Policy Options for Life Cycle Assessment Deployment in Legislation

Annekatrin Lehmann, Matthias Finkbeiner, Clare Broadbent, and Russ T. Balzer

Abstract Life cycle thinking is on the political agenda and widely used in practice. Moreover, numerous industries have actively been developing life cycle assessment (LCA) approaches for many years. As the authors think that it is in substance “right” to base environmental legislation on LCA, they started to explore and to develop policy options for integrating LCA into legislation. Commissioned by WorldAutoSteel, the authors focused on CO2 legislation in the automotive industry, but the options developed based on this example can be used for other industries and other environmental impacts as well. It was found that theoretically a broad range of policy options exists, and that practically some of them are already implemented in real world legislation and that there is no clear scientific overall preference for one single option. It was also shown that solutions for most technical requirements are already available, but that a consensus on proper setting of these requirements is missing.

Keywords Automotive sector • CO2 • Legislation • Life cycle assessment • Life cycle management • Life cycle thinking • Policy initiatives


Life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA) (ISO 14044 2006) (Baitz et al. 2012; Finkbeiner 2012) gain increasing importance in policy (Reimann et al. 2010; Inaba et al. 2003) and the authors think that to base environmental legislation on LCA is in substance “right”. In fact, LCT is already considered in some current legislations and investigated in ongoing policy initiatives, e.g. the Product Environmental Footprint method (PEF) (European Union 2013), which is currently widely discussed amongst various stakeholders (Finkbeiner 2014; Galatola and Pant 2014; Lehmann et al. 2015). Besides this, LCA has been widely applied in practice for many years, and several industries, companies and associations are actively developing LCA approaches (Finkbeiner et al. 2000). Examples are the World Steel Association and WorldAutoSteel, its automotive group, which published their position to plea for LC based regulation, e.g. in automotive CO2 legislation and proposes to consider LCT in post 2020 legislation (World Steel Association 2013). Against this background, in 2013 WorldAutoSteel commissioned Technische Universität Berlin (TUB) to explore and develop policy options for integrating LCA

into (automotive) legislation. The research project is still ongoing.

Automotive CO2 legislation is a relevant example for illustrating the necessity for considering a LC perspective. The reason is that it is shown that the current focus on tailpipe or exhaust emissions (the use phase) is not sustainable anymore because CO2 reductions in the use phase can come along with increasing CO2 emissions in other LC phases like the production phase (Daimler 2014; Krinke 2009; Kendall and Price 2012; PE International 2013), which are typically referred to as the embodied energy or environmental footprint.

The first idea in the research project was to “simply” move from tailpipe based CO2 limits to LC based CO2 limits. But the second thought was to explore alternative policy options as well. The underlying methodology and the results are presented in Sects. 2 and 3 respectively. A discussion of the key findings and an outlook is provided in Sect. 4.

Though the policy options are developed and described for the example of CO2 legislation in the automotive sector, they generally can be transferred to other sectors and other environmental impacts as well.

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