Both the lecture and the activity in which we produced our own Life Cycle Assessment were very interesting. Looking back on the process, my thoughts are somewhat divided over the usefulness of LCAs as a way of representing relevant information.
During the lectured portion when looking at the LCAs that Professor Belz presented, the power of the matrices to tell a story was very apparent. They give a viewer an immediate, basic understanding of where problems may exist. From this easy grasping of the issues, asking questions such as: why is it like this? and what can be done to change it? instinctively follow. In this way LCAs seem to be very effective at presenting an issue and allowing people to move easily to a point where they are able to internalize that issue and seeks answers and solutions. I felt that the the LCA on hybrid cars was even more effective. This assessment was able to depart from the ambiguity of the high medium and low rankings into measurements that were made immediately relevant through comparisons.
Upon beginning the creation of our own LCA, the questions of scope and which assumptions we were going to make became immediately more salient. When discussed in the lecture portion that clearly defining goals was important, it seemed to me to be all to obvious and straight-forward. When it came time for our group to do this in practice however it was far from it. The number of competing factors and scenarios that could have been taken into account were seemingly endless. On top of this none of our group had a large amount of experience in the topic we were discussing so I am certain there are many factors that were missed. In the end, I was left feeling that based on different assumptions and understandings, each group member could have created a different matrix and all would have been correct if only in their limited scope. This versatility would lead to many benefits in the ability of organizations to create specific and focused analyses. On the other hand it could lead to a situation where factors are omitted to a point where a major portion of the “story” is missed.
In the end I would have to argue that LCAs are very powerful tools when used to tell a story; whichever story it is that the teller may want. With this in mind I think it is important to be critical of any findings that result from these assessments as we saw the assumptions, underlying goals and scope have the possibility to give very different analyses. I think that the greatest value lies in the way LCAs can start a discussion and lead to questions being asked as I think that in some cases what isn’t included and why, may be as relevant as what does get included.