A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool for analyzing the environmental impacts and resources used throughout a product's life, from raw materials extraction to production, and extending through product use and disposal. LCA can be used to compare alternative products, processes or services; compare alternative life cycles for a certain product or service; or identify the parts of a life cycle where the greatest improvements can be made.

A standard LCA framework consists of the following distinct steps:

  • Goal and scope definition, which includes defining the system boundary and functional unit of analysis
  • Life cycle inventory (LCI), which includes identification and quantification of all inputs at each stage of the life cycle included within the system boundary
  • Impact analysis
  • Interpretation of impact analysis


Read our Fact Sheet to learn more about Life Cycle Assessments


ASI and UC SAREP researchers and staff have developed LCA models for several food products.

Honey Carbon Footprint Calculator and Report

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Use in California Orchards

LCA-based Comparisons of Energy Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Water Use of California versus Michigan Processed Tomato Products and California versus Southeastern Paddy Rice

Agricultural Sustainability Institute's work on Life Cycle Assessment and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Research Prospectus
Initial ASI/UC SAREP proposal to launch a research initiative around energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the food system

White Paper
A summary of critical issues in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the food system.

Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Food System: A Literature Review

Overview of Research Plan

Symposium on Critical Issues and Research Methods in Food Life Cycle Assessment
After preparing a general plan of action for this research initiative, ASI convened a group of national and international experts in life cycle assessment and climate change issues in the food system in a symposium (October 8-10, 2007) to comment on the ASI plan and to provide guidance on key issues relating to research and outreach in this area