LCA is not just a method but a methodology. This means that it is a collection of several methods. The framework of LCA is divided into four steps described in the standard ISO 14044:
The majority of the LCA projects in NORSUS include all four steps of the methodology, but the projects may have different focus:
- Some projects are mostly about defining an appropriate goal and scope and contribute to answering questions such as: What is the function of circular systems, how should we define the functional unit and the system boundaries, and how to allocate between co-products?
- Some projects are about inventory modelling, such as: How to estimate impacts from carbon storage and model biogenic carbon, how to quantify losses such as food waste, how to calculate energy potentials etc.
- Some projects are mostly about developing and testing methods for evaluating environmental impacts, which includes converting inventory to potential environmental impacts, for example, testing indicators for land use and biodiversity and for plastic littering.
- Some projects are about finding the «answer», for example: What is best of alternatives A and B, and which decision should this lead to for the company, authorities, or other societal actors.
In most LCA projects, NORSUS is dependent on collaboration. Naturally, we often collaborate with companies that want to assess their products or services. In such projects, it is central to collaborate on the definition of goal and scope and to collect necessary information, such as the amounts of materials, production processes and means of transportation. The interpretation of results is closely linked with the study’s goal study and must be adapted to the company’s needs. When it comes to inventory modelling and conversion to environmental impacts, we often collaborate with other researchers with competence within the specific areas, such as biologists and ecologists. The development of new indicators for environmental impact assessment can potentially be used in all types of projects.
Funding of transdisciplinary research projects is essential for the development of LCA. There is a need for more research on inventory modelling and impact assessment, and the results from one study can serve as valuable input data for projects. Projects can be funded either through public funders (such as the Norwegian Research Council) or by companies or industries taking social responsibility and contributing to method development for the common good of society.