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The Application of Life-Cycle Assessment within a Public Policy Framework - Theory and Reality Open Access


Other title
life-cycle assessment
public policy
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Seidel, Christina V.
Supervisor and department
Lipsett, Michael (Mechanical Engineering)
Checkel, David (Mechanical Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
MacLean, Heather (University of Toronto)
Lefsrud, Lianne (Chemical and Materials Engineering)
McCartney, Daryl (Civil Engineering)
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Engineering Management
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Public policy plays a major role in defining societal programs and frameworks, including issues related to environmental protection. Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) offers a tool to provide comprehensive environmental impact information that can be applied within the public policy development process. However, direct application of LCA results within the public policy arena has been limited, as a result of process and technical barriers. Despite the potential challenges and barriers, LCA could theoretically improve the decision-making process, and ultimately lead to better environmental outcomes. To facilitate this process, this thesis develops and presents recommendations to encourage consistent approaches to incorporating LCA into public policy decision making, in order improve the informed consideration of environmental factors within public policy development. In developing this thesis, information from existing literature provided a background of the use of LCA in public policy development and research into associated barriers. Literature was supplemented through interviews with subject matter experts, as well as practical LCA application through involvement with case studies with public policy elements. The current ISO LCA standards were also reviewed through a lens of public policy application. Research results were summarily integrated to develop a proposed framework for incorporating an improved LCA methodology into public policy development. Research showed that barriers that limit the application of LCA within the public policy development process range from lack of technical knowledge and LCA understanding on the part of policy makers, to a lack of trust in LCA process and results. Many of the identified barriers suggest that the failure of LCAs to contribute positively to public policy development is due to the process within which the LCA is being incorporated, rather than technical problems in the LCA itself. This led to the conclusion that a more open and inclusive process, with a focus on communication and understanding, may provide a better alternate framework for the development of public policy. This approach suggests that effectively incorporating LCA within the overall public policy decision-making process requires a more normative multi-disciplinary approach that includes a range of stakeholders and public policy decision-makers in a collaborative process at all stages of the assessment. Involving decision-makers and a full range of stakeholders actively, wholly and genuinely throughout a transparent and robust LCA process would serve to build an effective public policy development framework that would facilitate increased integration of LCA. A set of recommendations for implementing this type of process represents a significant contribution of this thesis. Additional recommendations suggest expanding the ISO LCA standards to embrace subjective and process elements, making them more robust, and encouraging the use of LCA in applications such as public policy. An overall conclusion is that one of the most important aspects of incorporating LCA into public policy decisions is to encourage life-cycle thinking among policy makers. Considering the life-cycle implications will result in more informed and thoughtful decisions, even when a full LCA is not undertaken.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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