Abstract

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a well-established tool for measuring environmental effects of existing technology. While the most recent LCA research has focused on environmental impacts, in particular on the effects of climate change, there is growing interest in how LCA can be used prospectively. A 2019 workshop in Duluth, Minnesota sought to define the needs and priorities of prospective life cycle assessment from a perspective that considers diverse viewpoints. In that workshop, participants outlined frameworks for how sustainability impacts might figure into a prospective LCA tool focused on assessing technologies currently under development. Those frameworks included social and economic impacts, which were characterized alongside environmental impacts, with the goal of predicting potential impacts and developing recommendations for improving technologies. Cultural perspective, in particular the roots of the German circular economy, was explored and held up as a reminder that different communities are influenced by different sustainability concerns, leading to diverse policy and cultural prerogatives. The purpose of this paper is to catalyze conversation about how to frame methodologies of existing LCA tools that could be used in a prospective sustainability context.

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