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PhD Defence Alan Campbell

a forensic approach to life cycle assessment - addressing the challenges of product economic inventory data collection for lca input, in support of product comparative environmental claims

Alan Campbell is a PhD student in the research group Design, Production and Management. His supervisor is R. ten Klooster from the faculty of Engineering Technology.

Research into methods for collecting product economic inventory data for inclusion into a comparative product life cycle assessment (LCA) are limited, while the rules governing such LCA based comparative product studies are strict in their requirements. As comparative assertions are to be made, it would seem appropriate that such studies be approached in a robust manner.

Reference is made to the use of product stakeholders as the source of product economic inventory data for input into LCA and yet research reveals numerous examples of studies in which these stakeholders were evidently absent.  Research shows that it is highly likely that in studies of comparative products, the stakeholders of some or all of the products may be absent, or unable or unwilling to cooperate in a comparative product study.  

Alternatives to stakeholder cooperation in product data collection are limited, leading to the question as to how a comparative product LCA, in support of a comparative product environmental claim statement, could be addressed from a product economic inventory data collection perspective.  

The criminal justice system has been shown to use a variety of analytical instruments to convict individuals based on “beyond reasonable doubt” evidence. To what extent could this forensic approach be used to derive product economic inventory data for input to a comparative LCA study and how would this data differ from the alternative collection methods?  To what extent can such a forensic type method be used to establish intended product like-functionality for comparison purposes and to identify the individual product materials composition, associated conversion processes and country-of-origin, all of this information being of value as product economic inventory data for LCA input?

Research shows a significant difference in comparative product ranking when a forensic approach is applied to an existing study that was reliant on assumptions in the absence of stakeholders.  Many of these existing studies also show that their authors were potentially lacking in product technologically relevant knowledge, this being a reported critique of LCA. Interpretation of the results of forensic studies would require the study author to have such knowledge in order to interpret the results.

The use of technologically relevant product knowledge and a forensic approach to product economic inventory data collection could help in rendering comparative product environmental claims more robust.