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May 2, 2024

Understanding Uncertainty in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): Navigating the Unknown

by Anber Rana
Post-doctoral Scholar, Life Cycle Lab, University of Washington

In March 2024, I began investigating uncertainty in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as researcher on CLF’s POD|LCA project. Despite my extensive experience as an academic researcher in primary LCA, this was a new frontier for me. This project presents me with a unique opportunity to delve into uncertainty analysis in LCA, a topic that has not been fully explored. Understanding these uncertainties is crucial for ensuring the reliability and robustness of LCA results, given the paramount importance of sustainability and informed decision-making.

LCA uncertainties primarily arise from data collection and the modeling process. Uncertainty of LCA can be categorized into parameter uncertainty (or database uncertainty), model uncertainty, statistical or measurement error, uncertainty due to choices, and uncertainty due to changes in future physical systems. Over the years, several tools and techniques have been developed to quantify and reduce uncertainty.

One widely used method to address uncertainty is the Monte Carlo Simulation, named after the famous gambling destination in Monaco due to its reliance on chance and random outcomes, similar to a game of dice or roulette. It is critical to emphasize that, in addition to using a reliable uncertainty assessment method, peer review and, importantly, stakeholder engagement are required for interpreting the final LCA results, validating assumptions, identifying blind spots, and enhancing robustness.

Uncertainty in LCA may present challenges, but it also opens doors to innovation and improvement. By courageously addressing these uncertainties together, we can refine our understanding of complex systems and make more informed decisions, thereby promoting sustainability and resilience. Let’s embrace uncertainty as an opportunity for growth and collaboration. We, as a collective, can leverage LCA to create a more sustainable future through rigorous analysis, stakeholder engagement, and transparency.

Thank you for joining me on this journey of exploration and discovery.

Regards

Anber

Brook Waldman

Anber Rana is a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the Life Cycle Lab at the University of Washington. Her academic journey has been marked by a commitment to advancing sustainable and climate-resilient construction practices. Prior to her current role, Anber served as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan).

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