Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): The Cradle to Grave of Your Clothes

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): The Cradle to Grave of Your Clothes

Astuti Khan
Senior Sourcing Officer (Myntra Fashion Brands)
Myntra Jabong Pvt. Ltd.
Dept. of Fashion Technology,
National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT)


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a globally used and accepted method for assessing environmental impacts of a product’s life cycle from cradle to grave, including life cycle phases such as raw material extraction, material processing, product manufacture, distribution, use, disposal and recycling.

Life Cycle Assessment

An LCA according to the ISO standard 14040 consists of four phases:

  1. Goal and scope definition
  2. Life cycle inventory (LCI) analysis
  3. Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA)
  4. Interpretation (ISO 2006).

A LCA typically does not include:

  • Social impacts
  • Economic impacts

Phases of LCA:
There are four linked components of LCA as regulated in ISO 14040 (principles) and 14044 (guidelines):

  1. Goal definition and scoping: here, one needs to get clarity on what the final goal is the expectations from this particular study (what is and is not included in the study); it is also helpful to include assumptions around the main goal statement.
  2. Life-cycle inventory: quantifying the resources going into and environmental releases associated with each stage of production;
  3. Impact analysis/assessment: assessing the impacts on human health and the environment associated with energy and raw material inputs and environmental releases quantified by the inventory;
  4. Interpretation: a simple life cycle model of a cradle to grave assessment, this is where you evaluate the mistakes happening at all different stages and various changes you can bring about to reduce the material inputs and environmental impact.

Phases of LCA

What is Life Cycle Inventory Assessment (LIA)?
A life cycle inventory is a process of quantifying energy and resources required and processing emissions (in water, atmosphere, solid waste, etc.) for the entire life cycle of a product or process.

Steps of Life Cycle Inventory Assessment are as follows:

  1. Develop a flow diagram of the processes that are part of evaluation
  2. Develop a data collection plan.
  3. Collect data.
  4. Evaluate and report results.

What is a Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA)?
The Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) phase of an LCA is the evaluation of all potential. Impact assessment should address ecological effects; it should also address resource depletion. A life cycle impact assessment attempts to establish a link between the input and output involved.

The following steps comprise a life cycle impact assessment:
Selection and Definition of Impact Categories – Identifying relevant environmental impact categories (e.g., global warming, acidification, terrestrial toxicity).

  1. Classification – Assigning LCI results to the impact categories (e.g., classifying carbon dioxide emissions to global warming).
  2. Characterization – Modeling LCI impacts within impact categories using science-based conversion factors (e.g., modeling the potential impact of carbon dioxide and methane on global warming).
  3. Normalization – Expressing potential impacts in ways that can be compared (e.g. comparing the global warming impact of carbon dioxide and methane for the two options).
  4. Grouping – Sorting or ranking the indicators (e.g. sorting the indicators by location: local, regional, and global).
  5. Weighting – Emphasizing the most important potential impacts.
  6. Evaluating and Reporting LCIA Results – Gaining a better understanding of the reliability of the LCIA results.

What is Life Cycle Interpretation? 
Life cycle interpretation is a systematic technique to identify, quantify, check, and evaluate information from the results of the LCI and the LCIA, and communicate them effectively. Life cycle interpretation is the last phase of the LCA process.

According to the ISO standard, the following steps to conducting a life cycle interpretation are identified and discussed:

  1. Identification of the Significant Issues Based on the LCI and LCIA.
  2. Evaluation which Considers Completeness, Sensitivity, and Consistency Checks.
  3. Conclusions, Recommendations, and reporting.

Network Connecting the Different Parts of LCA:

life cycle assessment framework

Network Connecting the Different Parts of LCA
(Click on image for large size)


  1. Identify the whole environmental impact picture;
  2. Go beyond just the product “use” phase;
  3. Quantify environmental effects such as overall energy consumption or air emissions;
  4. Reduce overall negative impacts and costs;
  5. Allows to focus on the most significant environmental impacts so as to develop and evaluate sustainability programs and policies;
  6. Informs product decisions to reduce  the environmental impact from design, materials, and manufacturing;
  7. Supports engagement with external stakeholders to reduce the impact of materials and consumer care.


  1. LCA thoroughness and accuracy will depend on the availability of data; gathering of data can be problematic; hence a clear understanding of the uncertainty and assumptions is important.
  2. Classic LCA will not determine which product, process, or technology is the most cost effective or top-performing; therefore, LCA needs to be combined with cost analysis, technical evaluation, and social metrics for comprehensive sustainability analysis.
  3. Unlike traditional risk assessment, LCA does not necessarily attempt to quantify any specific actual impacts. While seeking to establish a linkage between a system and potential impacts, LCA models are suitable for relative comparisons, but may be not sufficient for absolute predictions of risks.
  4. Even for relatively small systems, LCA is a comprehensive task that requires interdisciplinary knowledge in the technical and economic areas. Hence, LCA projects are typically assigned to teams of experts and can rarely be performed by a single person with sufficient accuracy.



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