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LCA Panel review: all information you need

If you wish to communicate the outcomes of a comparative LCA study, you have to organise an LCA panel review. Co-founder Saro tells what an LCA panel review entails and what organisations need to consider.

Through a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA), you can juxtapose the environmental impact of different products. For instance, comparing the impact of your own product with a benchmark of "the average competitor," or the impacts of various products of your own. However, if you wish to communicate the outcomes of this comparison externally, to the market or your stakeholders, an LCA panel review must be conducted. Co-founder Saro will explain in this article what an LCA panel review entails and what organisations need to consider.

Saro Campisano
Saro Campisano, Co-founder

Context; where does the LCA panel review originate from?

An LCA, a life cycle assessment, is a standardized calculation method used to determine the environmental impact of a product over its entire life cycle; from the extraction of raw materials through all transportation, production, use, and eventual processing at the end of the life cycle. The requirements for an LCA are defined in the internationally applicable standards ISO 14040 and 14044.

The latter, ISO 14044, also states that if you want to communicate the results of a comparative LCA study externally, an LCA panel review must be conducted. There's even a specific ISO standard, ISO 14071, that describes how to set up such a panel.

The LCA panel review ensures the reliability of LCA studies and comparisons. Many manufacturers compare their product to a standard product available in the same market, but how can they reliably say anything about that product if they haven't produced it themselves?

Moreover, an LCA panel review also ensures the transparency and credibility of the LCA. External experts check whether the delineations and assumptions in the LCA are correct and realistic. Possible ambiguities or contradictions become visible, and improvements to the methodology and reporting can be made. This guarantees credible and reliable outcomes.

Saro Campisano: "As an LCA expert, I see great value in an LCA panel review. It means that not only an LCA expert reviews the study, but perhaps a customer as well. They can, for example, question the assumptions made in the study. In this way, you test various aspects of the LCA study and can make substantiated claims."

What does an LCA panel review actually look like? 

An LCA panel review is conducted by at least three panel members. The first is the client of the LCA, the producer of the product being investigated through the LCA.

Then, an LCA expert who conducts the LCA study must be present. There must also be a chair of the panel; this person is appointed by the client. This individual leads the meetings and monitors progress.

Often, there is at least one more panel member present. Any stakeholder who could be affected by the results of the LCA study is suitable. This could include customers, competitors, industry parties, or NGOs.

LCA Panel review is becoming increasingly important 

In the coming years, regulations surrounding sustainability and sustainability communication will only become stricter; a lot is coming at organisations from the European Union. Consider the CSRD, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, or the Green Claims Directive.

The latter is legislation prescribing how companies must communicate about sustainability, without misleading consumers or withholding information. Transparency, evidence, and fair comparisons are the "backbone" of these legislations. Therefore, more and more companies will carry out comparative LCAs. And with this, the importance of LCA panel reviews increases.

What are the steps for an LCA panel review?

 It is up to the client of the LCA to assemble the panel. This takes time; you need to find a suitable LCA expert who can perform the substantive check. And you must approach a chair, and possibly another stakeholder.

Then, the review panel meets several times. Often, this is at least three times; an introduction and kick-off, where all panel members receive the LCA report. Then they need to assess it, which takes time.

Afterwards, the panel reconvenes for a second session to discuss the feedback. This feedback is returned to the client, the producer, who can incorporate the feedback.

During the final meeting, the client updates what they have done with this feedback, what adjustments have been made, and what the new outcomes are.

If the panel agrees on this, and the LCA panel review is thereby successfully completed, the final report will state that the comparative LCA has been reviewed and verified by an LCA panel review. And then the organisation may communicate the results externally.

How much time should an organisation allocate for an LCA panel review? 

The amount of time this takes depends on several factors. The scope of the study and the outcomes of the study, among other things, determine the duration of the panel review. On average, a panel review takes about 2 to 3 months.

If the panel encounters outcomes that raise doubts, the client and the executor of the LCA must adjust this. And sometimes, you have to go back to the beginning of the LCA calculation.

Because this can take several weeks, we discuss right at the beginning of the comparative LCA study that an LCA panel review must take place. When a client comes to us with a request for a comparative LCA, we ensure that this is set in motion immediately.

Does Hedgehog Company also conduct LCA panel reviews? 

Hedgehog Company has helped various clients with an LCA panel review. For some clients, we first conducted the comparative LCA study. And for other clients, we joined the panel as an external LCA expert and chair, to review the work of other LCA consultants.

It is very interesting for us to take part in panel reviews of other LCA organisations. This keeps us informed about how other organisations conduct LCA studies and the choices they make. And we can learn from each other.

Reach out to us to learn more about LCA's or an LCA panel review.

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