Have you ever wondered how companies unravel the environmental impact of their products? It’s a bit like being an investigative analyst, and the method they use is called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

LCA is a powerful tool that helps us understand the environmental footprint of a product, from its creation to disposal. But before we delve into the detective work, let’s talk about the secret weapon needed for LCA – the Data. Don’t worry; we’re going to break it down into bite-sized pieces to make it easily digestible.

Phase 1

1. Who’s in Charge?

Meet the Sustainability Manager – the captain of the eco-detective squad. If a company doesn’t have one, the role might be taken on by a data specialist, product manager, accountant, or someone from the finance department.

2. What to Measure?

Choose your target: a single product or an entire product lineup? This decision sets the stage for the data you’ll need.

3. Scope of Measurement

Now, let’s decide how deep we’re diving into the product’s lifecycle. There are three main scopes:

  • Cradle-to-Gate: Measures a product until it leaves the factory gates.
  • Cradle-to-Grave: Covers the entire lifecycle, from raw materials to disposal.
  • Cradle-to-Cradle: Similar to cradle-to-grave but incorporates recycling, making the product usable again.

The choice of which scope to use depends on the specific purpose of the study, with Cradle to Grave providing clearer insights about products of which we know the life cycle (and sharing those with consumers), and Cradle to Gate being more powerful for sharing through the value chain. Ultimately, both approaches contribute to sustainable production and can be used in conjunction to tackle different aspects of a product’s life cycle.

4. Create a Plan

Picture it as a treasure map, marking the budget, scope, and timeframe – the essential elements for our eco-detective journey.

Phase 2

1. Map it Out

Gather clues about your product and supply chain, such as:

  • Supplier data: Energy usage, emissions, and waste (retrieved from finance and sustainability departments).
  • Material data: Purchased and used raw materials, transport distances (retrieved from the purchasing department and Google Maps).
  • Process data: Details about product distribution, energy usage, and emissions (retrieved from process engineers and product owners).
  • Production data: Bill of materials (BOM), unit and weight per product, production quantities (retrieved from product owners and purchasing departments).

To prepare for data collection from suppliers, it’s essential to establish clear communication channels and provide guidance on the specific information required for the LCA. This may involve sending out standardized data collection templates or questionnaires outlining the types of data needed, such as energy usage, emissions, and material inputs. Additionally, companies should emphasize the importance of accurate and comprehensive data to ensure the reliability of the LCA results.

2. The Data

To conduct an LCA effectively, you typically get data from across the life cycle of the product’s production supply chain . Here are the key areas you’ll be focusing on:

  1. Raw material extraction: Data on the extraction of raw materials including energy consumption, water usage, and emissions associated with mining or harvesting.
  2. Manufacturing: Information on the energy and resources consumed during manufacturing processes, including emissions to air, water, and soil, as well as waste generated.
  3. Transportation: Data on transportation methods used to move materials and products between different stages of the life cycle, including distances traveled, modes of transportation, and associated emissions.
  4. Product use: Information on how the product is used by consumers, including energy consumption, water usage, and other environmental impacts during its operational phase.
  5. End-of-life: Data on how the product is disposed of or recycled at the end of its life, including waste management processes, emissions from disposal, and potential for recycling or reuse.
  6. Packaging: Data on the materials and processes used for packaging the product, including energy consumption, waste generation, and recyclability.
  7. Energy sources: Information on the sources of energy used throughout the life cycle, including fossil fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear power.
  8. Emissions: Data on emissions of greenhouse gases, air pollutants, and water pollutants associated with each stage of the life cycle.
  9. Water usage: Information on water consumption and wastewater generation throughout the life cycle.
  10. Land use: Data on the amount of land required for activities such as resource extraction, manufacturing, and waste disposal.
CarbonBright Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Data Graphic with 5 categories: Raw Materials, Manufacturing, Distribution, Consumer Use, Disposal

Once the data is collected, it’s crucial to store and manage it effectively to facilitate the LCA calculation process. Utilizing a centralized data management system or software can streamline data storage, organization, and retrieval. Proper documentation and version control practices should be implemented to track changes and updates to the data over time. Regular data validation and quality assurance checks should also be conducted to maintain data accuracy and integrity. 

3. Consumer Use and End-of-Life

Often overlooked but important, consider the product’s journey, involving scenarios of consumer use and what happens at the end of its life. Industry standards or product usage requirements can guide your scenarios. Surveys may help in understanding how your customers typically use your product, and what other factors to consider (ex. Water and energy usage.)  

4. Aim for Primary Data

Primary data is raw information collected directly from the main sources, like suppliers and distributors. It provides accurate and specific data for your footprint study, making your LCA more credible. When possible, aim to obtain primary data, as it will result in more accurate results. However in the absence of primary data, secondary data serves as a good alternative. Secondary data can come from a variety of sources including industry databases, scientific literature, government repositories like the EPA or EEA, academic studies, and existing LCA datasets.  It’s important to ensure that the data used is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant to the specific product or process being assessed.

Phase 3: Structuring Your Data Collection

1. Know Your Data Holders

Identify which stakeholders hold the data you need. Keep them informed and make them responsible for delivering their part of the data. To incentivize stakeholders to supply the required data for your LCA, it’s crucial to emphasize the mutual benefits of accurate and comprehensive data collection. Firstly, highlighting how their contribution supports the organization’s sustainability goals and environmental stewardship can foster a sense of shared purpose. Additionally, offering recognition or acknowledgment for their participation, such as including their efforts in sustainability reports or initiatives, can serve as a form of incentive.

2. Bring in the Data Specialist

Introduce your data specialist, the tech wizard, to set up this new sustainability data flow correctly. Ensure that the necessary data is securely stored in dedicated locations within your company’s database, tailored specifically for supply chain or product-level data. This ensures easy access and retrieval of relevant information for future reference and analysis, optimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your sustainability initiatives.


Embarking on the journey to unravel the environmental impact of your products through LCAs can be likened to solving a mystery. However, with a well-crafted plan and access to the right data, you’re equipped to navigate the complexities and make informed decisions to reduce your product’s footprint. By following the structured phases outlined, from defining the scope and gathering data to structuring data collection, you can effectively conduct an LCA that provides valuable insights into your product’s environmental performance.

CarbonBright’s state-of-the-art technology automates data collection from across your supply chain, pulling information from various sources to create a digital twin of your product’s lifecycle.  This eliminates the need for manual data entry and reduces the risk of errors.  Leveraging the power of generative AI, we can fill in any missing data points, ensuring a comprehensive analysis.  The result? A rapid, cost-effective LCA that delivers valuable insights you can use to make data-driven decisions for a more sustainable future.