Introduction to LCA

What’s In Your Cup Of Coffee?

Have you ever wondered, What is the environmental impact of that cup of coffee? The one you are probably drinking right now?

Does the environmental impact differ if I get the beans from somewhere close, like Guatemala, or far away, like Ethiopia?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife Cycle Analysis (or LCA) is one way of quantitatively assessing the impact of your coffee, as well as almost any other product you might consider. It can be helpful to compare among options for different decisions, as well as to understand the phases of a particular product and determine how it can be made more sustainable.

We’re going to have a visiting LCA expert, Dr. Paul McFarlane, from the Department of Wood Science, help us figure out how to answer to these types of questions.

First, we’ll figure out the environmental impact of coffee grown in Brazil and consumed in Vancouver. We’ll spend about one week working on the coffee LCA together in class. The broad goal is to help you learn a very transportable, generalized tool for quanitfying sustainability that is broadly useful. The specific learning objectives are intended to help you:

– Understand and formulate an LCA process diagram

– Define boundary conditions and functional units

– Perform relevant calculations for a product in several situations and for different regions of the world

– Use LCA to pose and answer a “good question”

Prior to starting the coffee lab, you’ll need to read the following before you arrive to class. We will also post these on Mendeley.

  1. US EPA LCA 101
  2. Coltro et al, 2001. “The Environmental Profile of Brazilian Green Coffee” International Journal of LCA vol 11 no. 1 pp 16-21

By the time we finish, you’ll be prepared to conduct a comparative LCA relevant to your own case study, answering an interesting sustainability question that you develop. Check out the associated LCA pages on energy, agriculture, etc., to get some ideas about what is feasible. You’ll have a few weeks to work on this with your group.


Useful Links

Next step in Life Cycle Assessment: Inventory Analysis

Required Readings

See above for a start, then visit the specific LCA subpages. We will add some papers to our Mendeley group, as well.