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The UWME Design for Environment Lab promotes Sustainability and Design for Environment (DFE) through the advancement of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Industrial Ecology (IE).

Life Cycle Assessment Data

Accessibility to LCA data, e.g., for Product Category Rules (PCRs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), is improving in large part due to national database development efforts.

USDA LCA Digital Commons

Open source data, like that in the USDA LCA Digital Commons, promise more transparency for LCAs. Features include data parameterization and extended meta data.

Design for Environment Courses

In ME515 Life Cycle Assessment, Beren Landaas Wells McKay presented this photo as part of his LCA of photography.  Visit the "Salmon Waves" sculpture at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Washington


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ME515 Life Cycle Assessment

Winter quarter 2014



Joyce Smith Cooper, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering (office hours before class and by appointment)


Class description

The computational structure and data sources for environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) are presented, discussed, and used to analyze materials, products, and services from materials acquisition through end-of-life.  Assessments either identifies opportunities for improvements or selects a superior alternative on the basis of pollution prevention and resource conservation.

Class format

Students individually prepare an LCA starting with a project proposal identifying their topic of interest.  Project documention is submitted throughout the quarter as a goal and scope document, an inventory analysis, and a final report including impact assessment and interpretation.

Grading is based on the proposal, interim and final reports, and one in-class quiz.   0.1 points will be lost from the final grade for each day past any reporting deadline.    All interim and final reports should be submitted through the class catalyst 2014 LCA dropbox



Jan. 7-9 Course introduction

READING: Heijungs & Suh chapter 1 and ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006

Jan. 9 - 21: Goal and scope definition and the basic model for inventory analysis

READING: Heijungs & Suh chapter 2 

Jan. 10: Project topic to be submitted for approval (submit to the class dropbox by 5pm)

Jan. 17: Project proposal due (submit to the class catalyst dropbox by 5pm)

Jan. 23 - Feb. 4: Inventory data sources

READING: Jiménez-González, C., S. Kim, M.R. Overcash (2000) “Methodology for Developing Gate-to-Gate Life Cycle Inventory Information,” International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 5(3) 153-159

Jan. 24: Goal and scope report due (submit to the class catalyst dropbox by 5pm)

Feb. 6: The refined model for inventory analysis

READING: Heijungs & Suh chapters 3

Feb. 11: Inventory analysis help session
Feb. 13:  QUIZ (in-class) (quiz notes in pdf)
Feb. 18: Impact Assessment

READING: Heijungs & Suh section 8.1 and BARE, J. C. TRACI 2.0 - The Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and other environmental Impacts. CLEAN TECHNOLOGIES AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, 13(5):687-696, (2011) 

Feb. 20: Inventory analysis due (submit to the class catalyst dropbox by 5pm)

Feb. 25: GUEST SPEAKERS: Joshua Kusnitz and Gary May of The Boeing Company
Feb. 27: Interpretation

READING: Heijungs & Suh chapters 4 and 6 and section 8.2 and Heijungs, R., R. Kleijn (2001) “Numerical approaches towards life cycle interpretation: five examples,” International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 6(3) Available at

March 4: LCA Tools, issues and status
March 6: Interpretaton help session
Mar. 11 - 13: LCA project forum- BRIEF oral reports given in class (what to include)

Mar. 17  Final report due (submit to the class catalyst dropbox by 5pm)


Project description

Your project will be a LCA that recommends improvement opportunities for a life cycle of a system of your choosing. HOWEVER:

  • You may not recreate an existing LCA (this means you must start with a literature review including BOTH a journal and web search)
  • You may choose from one of the following two types of projects:
    • Prepare an LCA on a product or production process that has not been done
    • Prepare an LCA that starts with an existing LCA as the basis and
      • ADDS for 2 or more process alternatives (technologies not previously considered) AND at least 1 life cycle impact that has not previously been assessed
  • All project proposals must be approved by the instructor
During the quarter, you will submit a proposal, interim reports, and a final report

Proposal: Your ~2-page proposal should include:

  • An introduction including:
    • A description of the specific system you will evaluate and why you have chosen it (e.g., it is related to your thesis or dissertation, it is related to your current job or career goals, it is related to an environmental question you have had for some time, etc.).
    • The results of your literature review covering
      • Relevant articles/reports describing core production data
      • Relevant LCAs including a description of the geographic specificity, functional unit, scope (including a hierarchical list of included processes), impact assessment, comparisons made, and conclusions drawn.
  • A description of your proposed LCA including:
    • identification of the product and co-product(s)
    • identification of the geographic specificity (what region will you study?-- the US? the globe?)
    • the function of your system (to generate electricity, transport people to work...)
    • a description of how you will model "core production" (include references to data or models to be used)
    • a hierarchical list of unit processes to be included in the life cycle (using abbreviations as needed, such as "the life cycle of aluminum production")
    • a description of what will be tracked in the impact assessment (such as "the contribution to climate change") and a statement on why you have chosen these impacts (references are appropriate here)
  • Conclude with a list of the references used, formatted as described at and please consider the use of appendices (e.g., for process lists) which do not need to comply with the page limit
Interim Reports

Part 1.    Goal and scope definition. 

Follow the structure described in the ISO Standards.  You will be both reformatting some of the information provided in your proposal and providing new new information.   Note that your "critical review" includes feedback from the instructor on interim and final reports as well as feedback provided by the class during the oral presentations.  You must also include a brief description of the LCA methodology and a review of existing related LCAs as may have been included in your proposal.  All citations should be complete as described at 

Part 2.    Inventory analysis.  

Follow the structure described in the ISO Standards.  Your technology and intervention matrices, demand vector, scaling vector, and result vector must be included in an appendix and must be referred to in the text. All data sources must be cited, and formatted as described at

Final Report

Your final report must combine all interim reports and add 3 final parts:

Part 3.         Impact assessment. 

Your impact assessment must include characterization and normalization and may also include valuation. 

Part 4.         Interpretation. 

The findings from your inventory analysis and impact assessment should be evaluated on the basis of completeness, sensitivity, consistency, and quality of the data.

Part 5.         Recommendations. 

The conclusion of your report should support recommendations for resource conservation and pollution prevention.

Your final project report must not exceed 25 pages of text, figures, and tables (not including appendices).  Text should be 12-point and text in tables and figures should not be smaller than 10-point.  Figures and tables should be integrated within the text of the description unless they are clearly part of an appendix.  All citations should be complete as described at 

Example Class Project

 (noting the the project requirements may have been different than yours)

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