What is "Cradle to Grave"? What is a Lifecycle Assessment? Why does it Matter?

A cradle-to-grave footprint, or lifecycle assessment (LCA), is a method to evaluate the environmental impact of a product, process, or service throughout its entire life cycle. This method of study takes into account the impact of each of these stages, including energy and resource consumption, emissions to air, water, and soil, and waste generation.

A lifecycle product carbon footprint is a subset of the LCA-family that focuses on; A) tracing the global warming impact of emissions to air, of B) a single product from extraction of raw material to final disposal or recycling.

Here are some examples of what production steps would be included in a lifecycle carbon footprint for various products:

  • For a Passenger Vehicle - Would include mining and processing of raw materials, manufacturing of intermediate car components (doors, windows, etc.), assembly of the vehicle, distribution of the vehicles to dealerships, consumers driving the vehicle, and ultimately disposing or recycling the vehicle at the end of its useful life.
  • For Clothing - Would include the impact of growing or producing the fiber, manufacturing the fabric, designing and assembling the garment, transporting it to stores or customers, and disposing of it at the end of its life.
  • For Food Products - Would include the environmental impact of growing or raising the ingredients, processing and packaging the food, transporting it to stores or customers, preparing and consuming the food, and disposing of any leftover waste.

By evaluating the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle, companies and policymakers can identify areas where improvements can be made to reduce the overall lifecycle footprint.