Differential Convergence of Life-Cycle Inventories toward Upstream Production Layers

Implications for Life-Cycle Assessment


  • Manfred Lenzen

  • Senior research fellow at the School of Physics, University of Sydney, Australia, specializing in life-cycle assessment and corporate triplebottom-line reporting.


We present an input-output analysis of the life-cycle labor, land, and greenhouse gas (GHG) requirements of alternative options for three case studies: investing money in a new vehicle versus in repairs of an existing vehicle (labor), passenger transport modes for a trip between Sydney and Melbourne (land use), and renewable electricity generation (GHG emissions). These case studies were chosen to demonstrate the possibility of rank crossovers in life-cycle inventory (LCI) results as system boundaries are expanded and upstream production inputs are taken into account. They demonstrate that differential convergence can cause crossovers in the ranking of inventories for alternative functional units occurring at second-and higher-order upstream production layers. These production layers are often excluded in conventional process-type life-cycle assessment (LCA) by the delineation of a finite system boundary, leading to a systematic truncation error within the LCI. The exclusion of higher-order upstream inputs can be responsible for ranking crossovers going unnoticed. In this case, an incomplete conventional process-type LCA of two alternative options can result in preferences and recommendations to decision makers that are different from preferences and recommendations concluded from a complete hybrid input-output-based assessment. Therefore, the need to avoid misleading effects on the ranking of alternative functional units due to differential convergence supports the practice of hybrid input-output-based LCA techniques.