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Keywords:

  • decision making;
  • environmental trade-offs;
  • interpretation;
  • life-cycle assessment (LCA);
  • systems analysis;
  • weighting methods

Summary

This article investigates how environmental trade-offs are handled in life-cycle assessment (LCA) studies in some Nordic companies. Through interviews, the use and understanding of weighting methods in decision making was studied. The analysis shows that the decision makers require methods with which to aggregate and help interpret the complex information from life-cycle inventories. They agreed that it was not their own values that should be reflected in such methods, but they were found to have different opinions concerning the value basis that should be used. The analysis also investigates the difficulties arising from using such methods. The decision makers seemed to give a broader meaning to the term weighting, and were more concerned with the comparison between environmental and other aspects than the weighting of different environmental impacts. A conclusion is that decision makers need to be more involved in modeling and interpretation. The role of the analyst should be to interpret the information needs of the decision maker, and help him or her make methodological choices that are consistent with these needs and relevant from his or her point of view. To achieve this, it is important that decision makers do not view LCA as a highly standardized calculation tool, but as a flexible process of collecting, organizing, and interpreting environmental information. Such an approach to LCA increases the chances that the results will be regarded as relevant and useful.