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Using Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment to Guide Sustainable Design

[+] Author Affiliations
Jeremy J. Michalek, Chris T. Hendrickson, Jonathan Cagan

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

Paper No. DETC2011-47664, pp. 951-958; 8 pages
  • ASME 2011 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 2: 31st Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, Parts A and B
  • Washington, DC, USA, August 28–31, 2011
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5479-2
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


Successful design for the environment (DfE) requires the designer to understand the life cycle impact of design decisions. However, estimating life cycle implications of design choices using traditional process-based life cycle assessment (LCA) is typically too time- and resource-intensive to be practical as part of the design process. We examine the use of economic input-output life cycle assessment (EIO-LCA) as a tool to support sustainable design by helping the designer to quickly determine which aspects of the product dominate its lifetime emissions. Compared to traditional process-based LCA, EIO-LCA produces estimates at a more aggregated level using data on economic transactions and emissions from each sector of the economy. However, EIO-LCA computes full supply chain emissions associated with output from a particular sector in seconds, and for many products these aggregate-level data are sufficient to determine which aspects of the product dominate and to guide sustainable design efforts. We explore two product design examples where a quick scoping exercise with EIO-LCA identifies clear areas of focus for design improvement and innovation.

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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