Normative ethics and methodology for life cycle assessment
Journal article, 2005

Prospective life cycle assessment (LCA) provides information on the environmental consequences of individual actions. Retrospective LCA provides information about the environmental properties of the life cycle investigated and of its subsystems. In this paper we analyse the links between the choice of methodology and different theories of normative moral philosophy. The choice of electricity data in an LCA of a conference site with local hydropower production is discussed as an illustration. The two types of LCA can be related to different theories on the characteristics of a good action. Each type of LCA, as well as each of the moral theories, can be criticised from the alternative point of departure. Decisions based on retrospective LCA can have environmentally undesirable consequences. On the other hand, prospective LCA can appear unfair and result in environmentally sub-optimised systems. Both types of LCA also have methodological limitations. We cannot conclude that one type is superior to the other, but the choice of methodology should be consistent with the information sought in the LCA.

life cycle assessment

moral philosophy


marginal data



Tomas Ekvall

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Energy Technology

Anne-Marie Tillman

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Sverker Molander

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Journal of Cleaner Production

0959-6526 (ISSN)

Vol. 13 13-14 1225-1234

Subject Categories


Other Environmental Engineering

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified



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