Life-cycle assessment (LCA) facilitates a systems view in environmental evaluation of products, materials, and processes. Life-cycle assessment attempts to quantify environmental burdens over the entire life-cycle of a product from raw material extraction, manufacturing, and use to ultimate disposal. However, current methods for LCA suffer from problems of subjective boundary definition, inflexibility, high cost, data confidentiality, and aggregation.
This paper proposes alternative models to conduct quick, cost effective, and yet comprehensive life-cycle assessments. The core of the analytical model consists of the 498 sector economic input-output tables for the U.S. economy augmented with various sector-level environmental impact vectors. The environmental impacts covered include global warming, acidification, energy use, non-renewable ores consumption, eutrophication, conventional pollutant emissions and toxic releases to the environment. Alternative models are proposed for environmental assessment of individual products, processes, and life-cycle stages by selective disaggregation of aggregate input-output data or by creation of hypothetical new commodity sectors. To demonstrate the method, a case study comparing the life-cycle environmental performance of steel and plastic automobile fuel tank systems is presented.