The Difference Between LCA, LCI, LCIA, and LCC

From the metals and consumer goods sectors to the buildings industry, life cycle assessment (LCA) has rapidly become one of the most effective ways for firms to assess and prioritize opportunities to create added value across the life cycle of a product or service. 

Source: Deloitte

Government regulators, engineers, and vendors rely on ISO-compliant LCAs to verify the environmental impacts of materials, products, and services while supporting the deep decarbonization claims they make. 

At its core, an LCA can identify environmental hot spots in products and materials while providing a benchmark against which improvements can be made and measured. Corporations use LCAs to remain transparent and ensure credibility among their investors and customers. LCAs are also used for new product research and development when the environmental footprint is vital to the future marketing or cost structure of a product or service. 

As consumer and regulatory environmental expectations increase in demand, LCAs continue to be recognized and relied upon within business modeling and sustainability management.

In this article, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions management experts at SINAI Technologies define a life cycle assessment (LCA,) life cycle inventory (LCI,) life cycle impact assessment (LCIA,) and life cycle costing (LCC.). We also explore the differences between each method and how they complement each other to help corporations better track their carbon emissions and ultimately play their part in combatting the effects of climate change.

Defining life cycle assessment

Put simply, the scientific method for measuring the environmental footprint of products, services, and materials over their entire lifetime is known as life cycle assessment.

To understand life cycle assessment and its benefits in greater detail, including the four life cycle assessment steps, see our recent blog on the topic.

What is a life cycle inventory? 

A life cycle inventory (LCI) is the data collected through an LCA and is considered the first step in completing an LCA. In other words, it is the accounting of everything involved in a particular life cycle system, whether a product, material, or service. 

An LCI consists of robust tracking of every flow in and out of a product’s life cycle, from the raw resources and materials used and the type of energy utilized, to the amount of GHG emissions released into the air or water. This comprehensive analysis can be complex and, more often than not, involves several or all units within a single value chain. 

What is a life cycle impact assessment? 

After completing a life cycle inventory, your firm will want to understand what your ICA means in terms of the environmental impact of your product’s life cycle. 

This is where a life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) comes into play. 

Performing an LCIA involves analyzing your inventory to assess the impact of your firm’s materials, service, or product on the environment. 

Let’s suppose your product uses a certain amount of natural gas in the manufacturing stage. This should be reflected in your life cycle inventory. When your firm performs a life cycle impact assessment, you’ll calculate the climate impact resulting from the combustion of that fuel. Several different methods are used worldwide to distinguish and grade the life cycle impact of each flow to and from a particular environment. This has led to difficulties in comparing various studies of LCAS. 

Other crucial variables in an LCIA include:

  • What is your firm’s life cycle boundary: how far upstream, downstream, and sidestream does your analysis go,
  • What functional unit does your firm use: what is the volume, mass, or purpose of the product or service being assessed, and 
  • What specific LCIA methods do you utilize: how are impacts assigned to a product and by-products, and on what basis.

Life cycle costing explained 

Sometimes confused with an LCA or LCI, life cycle costing (LCC) is an entirely separate and distinct life cycle approach, similarly referred to as ‘cradle to grave’ as an LCA is. The difference lies in what is assessed through each method. In an LCC, the direct monetary costs of a product, service, or material are explored, not the environmental impact as is the case in an LCA.


Simple GHG emissions tracking and management

SINAI has built the globe's leading decarbonization platform, empowering your supply chain when it comes to your LCA, LCI, and LCIA task requests.  

Our cutting-edge scenario assessment tools simplify and automate your firm’s carbon emissions calculations, making your pathway to deep decarbonization simple and straightforward, no matter how many areas of your firm need to contribute. SINAI provides your sustainability team with the necessary tools it needs, from automated GHG inventories & baseline projections to internal carbon pricing and automated adaptation modeling.

Siemens, Bayer, ArcelorMittal, and more, trust our platform to help them measure, analyze, price, and reduce GHG emissions while keeping them on the right track towards achieving longer-term net-zero goals.

Our software solution allows your firm to create personalized carbon pricing modules in order to consolidate your firm’s environmental impact and make complex data easier to access and interpret. Contact us for a demo of our software today.

Learn more from our blog

sinai leaf 3
More blog posts
arrow right black