Environmental sustainable decision making – The need and obstacles for integration of LCA into decision analysis

Yan Dong*, Simona Miraglia, Stefano Manzo, Stylianos Georgiadis, Hjalte Jomo Danielsen Sørup, Elena Boriani, Tine Hald, Sebastian Thöns, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

*Corresponding author for this work

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Decision analysis is often used to help decision makers choose among alternatives, based on the expected utility associated to each alternative as function of its consequences and potential impacts. Environmental impacts are not always among the prioritized concerns of traditional decision making. This has fostered the development of several environmental problems and is nowadays a reason of concern. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can assess an extensive range of environmental impacts associated with a product or service system and support a life cycle perspective on the alternative products or service systems, revealing potential problem shifting between life cycle stages. Through the integration with traditional risk based decision analysis, LCA may thus facilitate a better informed decision process. In this study we explore how environmental impacts are taken into account in different fields of interest for decision makers to identify the need, potential and obstacles for integrating LCA into conventional approaches to decision problems. Three application areas are used as examples: transportation planning, flood management, and food production and consumption. The analysis of these cases shows that environmental impacts are considered only to a limited extent in traditional evaluation of transport and food projects. They are rarely, if at all, addressed in flood risk management. Hence, in each of the three cases studied, there is a clear need for the inclusion of a better and systematic assessment of environmental impacts. Some LCA studies have been conducted in all three research areas, mainly on infrastructures and production systems. The three cases show the potential of integrating LCA into existing decision analysis by providing the environmental profiles of the alternatives. However, due to different goals and scopes of LCA and other decision analysis approaches, there is a general lack of consistency in study system scoping in terms of considered elements and boundaries, in uncertainty treatment, and in applied metrics. In the present paper, we discuss the obstacles arising when trying to integrate LCA with conventional evaluation tools and we propose a research agenda to eventually make such integration feasible and consistent.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Pages (from-to)33-44
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Decision analysis
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Cost benefit analysis
  • Risk assessment
  • Decision support

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