Goal and scoping
The first stage of the AHEC-commissioned LCA will involve a goal and scoping exercise. Through a workshop or series of workshops, the commissioned LCA scientists will consult with AHEC and other key stakeholders, particularly AHEC members and other supply chain participants involved in providing primary data. A key aim of the scoping exercise will be to build consensus on key technical points including:
- Functional Unit: the basis for environmental impact calculation and comparison between systems. For example will the study cover "one chair", "one m² of cladding/flooring", "one lifetime use" or "10, 20, 100 years of use".
- System Boundary: ideally this should include the whole lifecycle of the products under investigation including: raw material extraction and energy; transport of material to manufacturing location; manufacturing processes; all subsequent transport of product; product in use; and end of product life. It is also necessary to consider such issues as the extent to which secondary processes and overhead costs should be included.
- Boundary Conditions: what requirements should be established for the location and timeframe of data? For example, as the project aims to measure environmental impacts for “typical European and Asian production processes” it will be necessary to agree an appropriate mix of energy (electricity, gas, biomass, coal, etc.) used at a "typical" production place.
- Allocation procedures: the breakdown of environmental burdens to all the products coming out of a single process. This can be particularly significant in the wood sector where a single log is likely to produce a combination of sawn lumber, off-cuts, chips and sawdust all of which may be used either for manufacture of products or diverted for energy production.
- Data quality requirements: a precondition for the acceptance of LCA comparisons is the application of consistent LCA data. Issues to consider include appropriate timescale, region, technology, completeness and representativeness of data. A key aim of the AHEC-commissioned study is to conform to protocols established for internationally recognised life cycle inventory databases such as the European Commission's "European Reference Life Cycle Database" or the U.S. Life-Cycle Inventory Database produced by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
- Cut-off Criteria: conditions for excluding a material or condition from the study. For example, it might be decided that if a material constitutes less than 1% of the mass of the product it may be excluded, providing its environmental relevance is not a concern.
- Environmental impact categories of concern: the importance and weighting to be attached to different issues, such as land use and land degradation, climate change and green house gas emissions, aquatic and terrestrial toxicity, acidification, eutrophication, water consumption, local site issues (noise, disturbance), health impacts from air emissions.
- External Review: how to engage with external reviewers, an essential requirement for publication of credible results.