Life Cycle Assessment is an internationally standardized framework for environmental assessment of products or processes following these from cradle-to-grave, i.e. from raw material extraction over production , distribution and use to waste management. It sets out to cover all environmental aspects relevant for a specific production system. The unit of assessment, termed the functional unit, shall reflect the function of the product. In the case of food, the functional unit is often a typical consumer package, a kilo of product or a nutritional function of the food.
For paints, the functional unit could, rather than a liter of paint, be the coverage of a certain area over a certain time (m2*year) or it could be related to the purpose of using the paint, like keeping the boat free from fouling in the example of antifouling paints. These definitions will however always depend on the goal of the study, i.e. what is to be compared.
Undertaking an LCA comprises four main phases, as defined in the ISO standard (ISO 14040 and 14044) 1) Goal and Scope definition, 2) Inventory, 3) Impact assessment and 4) Interpretation. It is an iterative process in that early steps often need to be revisited after the first results are obtained. Goal and scope means framing the study in terms of setting the boundaries and defining the product to be studied as well as the types of environmental impacts to be covered. Data inventory means collecting data on inputs and outputs of every activity involved in the production system and to aggregate these, often using a dedicated LCA software. Impact assessment translates the aggregated resource use into emissions which are weighted together into impact categories to which they contribute (e.g. Global warming, Eutrophication, Acidification, Aquatic ecotoxicity etc.). Interpretation involves drawing conclusions from the results in relation to e.g. data quality and performing a sensitivity analysis, possibly resulting in a second iteration of refining important data used. LCA results can and are used for product development, for policy-making and as a basis for certification both by companies and public organizations on a totally voluntary basis.
In CHANGE, LCA will be used to evaluate different boating behaviors in terms of environmental impact. In this case, it is not obvious what the unit of assessment should be. Well, it should not be a liter of paint, as described above. Should it be a square meter of boat hull protected? This functional unit cannot reflect the effect of different boating behaviors like for example when the boat is launched in spring in relation to when and how much it is actually used. Therefore, the unit that will be assessed in CHANGE will be a boating day, since this reflects the function of having a leisure boat- going out to sea to have a good time! We will quantify how much resources are required and how much emissions generated by various behaviors, including non-toxic alternatives such as boat washers and low-stick paint which will also be evaluated for comparison. Results will demonstrate quantified differences in environmental performance between the scenarios as well as possible trade-offs between environmental impact categories.