Fundamentally I think LCA follows the systems approach  of looking at something holistically. But LCA looks at, more specifically, the process of production of certain technology. LCA looks at how a piece of product experience its life cycle from cradle to grave – from picking up the first piece of material to being disposed in some ways.
To conduct an LCA one usually needs to execute four steps, namely,
- Goal and scope definition – define the scope of your LCA, e.g. “I am looking at this type of vehicle’s impact on global warming”;
- Inventory analysis – gather data, and on top of that, build up models, e.g. “This type of vehicle emits X units of CO2 per kilometer, based on the data obtained by Y institute”;
- Impact assessment – fuse the various kinds of data and models obtained to form a single indicator, considering the goal and scope of the study, e.g. “This is equivalent to emitting X units of CO2, or, experimentally will cause an Y increase of temperature in Z years”;
- Interpretation – understand, transcribe and summarize the three previous results and draw useful conclusions, e.g. “So the vehicle manufacturer should take X Y Z measures to lower their product’s impact on global warming”.
One should always note that LCA is as good as its data. And also LCA is highly limited by its scope and the available resources for the study. So sometimes looking at and comparing multiple LCAs might make more sense than relying solely on one.
1. Churchman, C. The systems approach. Dell Publishing Company, 1983.