An Ecological Economic Critique of the Use of Market Information in Life Cycle Assessment Research


Address correspondence to:
Nathan Pelletier
Dalhousie University
School for Resource and Environmental Studies
6100 University Ave
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 3J5


The rising prominence of life cycle assessment (LCA) and similar environmental accounting frameworks reflects increasing awareness of the pressing necessity of managing both for eco-efficiency and with respect to the macroscale, environmental dimensions of the material/energy flows and emissions that underpin all economic activity. However, by relying on environmentally myopic market signals to inform evaluations of the biophysical dimensions of economic activity through the widespread use of market information (in particular, via economic allocation) in LCA, we are concerned that researchers greatly compromise the value of their work to furthering these objectives. In response to this problem, we provide a systematic critique of the use of market information in attributional LCA and present the case for an ecological-economic approach to the execution, interpretation, and application of biophysically consistent LCA research specifically intended to elucidate the environmental dimensions of meeting human needs. We further argue that, although LCA has historically been limited to informing eco-efficiency considerations, it can and should also be used to manage for sustainable scale, which is the first condition of sustainability.