Review of teaching materials

The Academy members review and recommend available teaching materials

Many textbooks and on-line materials on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) have appeared in the later years, and the Academy seeks to provide updated reviews of teaching materials and recommendations on these. For this purpose, the Academy has developed the following list of criteria for a good beginner’s LCA textbook:

Criteria for a good beginner’s LCA textbook

General requirements

  • Low (or no) price
  • Up-to-date
  • Readability (Numerical score: Flesch–Kincaid test, using word length and sentence length)
  • All new topic-specific terms explained when introduced and/or in glossary
  • Mentions alternative terms used in practice, to provide the student with an appropriate vocabulary to comprehend the general literature that use these alternative terms
  • Do not introduce unnecessary terms or use terms in other ways than usual, unless clearly justified and announced
  • Logical structure, avoiding repetition and avoiding introducing topics that later turn out to be unnecessary
  • Contextualising LCA within its broader field
  • Clear relationship to Life Cycle Costing and Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment
  • Basic concepts are introduced
  • Introduces basic quantitative skills required
  • Clear relation to ISO standards
  • Provides additional detail and explanations relative to ISO
  • Quantitative uncertainty and data quality clearly stressed throughout in an operational manner
  • Rigour and prudence throughout the text
  • Providing rationales for any normative statements
  • Providing rationales and practicable procedures for all recommendations
  • Text and calculations checked for errors
  • Real-life examples throughout, illustrating good practice and the points made in the text
  • Relevant and tested exercises provided
  • Additional resources provided for download
  • References to relevant further reading
  • Option for providing feedback to authors (and having responses)

Specific content requirements

  • Introduces setting of goal and scope, including the core distinctions of average versus marginal modelling
  • Introduces the concept of a functional unit, including the conditions for substitution
  • Introduces procedures to ensure all relevant impacts are included in an LCA study, including social issues
  • Basic introduction to unit processes and data collection for these
  • Introduces the construction of linked databases from unit processes, introducing also the parallel between matrix and flow chart notations
  • Basic introduction to the inventory calculus, explaining also the similarity of process LCA and Input-Output calculus
  • Introduces the options for combining process-based and IO LCA, highlighting the options for taking the best from both approaches and avoiding cut-offs
  • Introduces the concepts of markets
  • Introduces alternative procedures for handling of co-production, including the distinction between combined and joint production
  • Introduces the concept and procedures for handling rebound effects
  • Introduces the relevance of temporality of emissions (e.g. the often erroneous assumption of neutrality of biogenic CO2-emissions)
  • Introduces Life Cycle Impact Assessment and the impact pathways (cause-effect chain, environmental mechanism) concept
  • Explains the implicit weighting that may occur when choosing and normalising impact categories
  • Introduces the procedural aspects of weighting, objectivity-criteria, the role of science in soliciting values, and democratic and consensus-based approaches to weighting
  • Introduces mass balancing as quality assessment tool in both inventory and impact assessment

Reviews and recommendations

Academy members have performed reviews according to the above criteria of some of the more recent textbooks (since summer 2023 all three books are open access):

A summary of the first part of the review of the last three have been published in Journal of Industrial Ecology. For each of these three, more detailed comments are available in the following files:

Review details Jolliet (update: May 2023: textbook now for free download)
Review details Matthews  (free download)
Review details Hauschild (update: August 2020 – textbook now for free download)

With the risk of appearing biased, the Academy currently recommends the textbook of Academy member Scott Matthews as the best choice for a beginner’s textbook, see also our page on open teaching material.