The life cycle concept is a way of thinking that goes beyond the traditional focus on the production process or manufacturing site to include the impacts of a product over its entire life cycle; the life cycle being the consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition to the final disposal. In addition to qualitative Life Cycle Thinking, numerous quantitative methodologies have been developed within the life cycle family, enabling the assessment of various aspects of products and/or processes; ranging from their potential environmental impacts using Life Cycle Assessment and the analysis of the triple bottom line using Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment, to approaches for businesses and organisations, such as Life Cycle Management and Organisational Life Cycle Assessment.

The importance of the life cycle concept and its numerous tools is reflected by their uptake in various governmental policies (such as the EU’s Integrated Product Policy and the Renewable Energy Directive), their use by a diverse range of businesses (including Unilever, Shell, Nissan through to the fashion designer, Stella McCartney) and international organisations (for example, the United Nations Environment Programme and OECD), as well as being the basis for multiple standards, including Carbon and Water Footprinting. Furthermore, life cycle approaches support current political and economic sustainability agendas, are relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals, and are considered fundamental to the circular economy and green growth concepts.

For more detailed background information regarding the life cycle concept and the various approaches, please consult the following resources: