The Decision Tree

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Cradle to Grave

TDT 1.06 Recap and Glossary

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  • A life-cycle analysis (LCA) estimates the environmental impacts of a product or process ‘from cradle to grave’.
  • A life-cycle analysis has four components: Goal Definition and Scope, Inventory, Impact Assessment, and Interpretation.
  • ‘Goal Definition and Scope’ sets limits on what should be included in the analysis in order to make it useful and practical to carry out.
  • Inventory’ refers to all the data to be analysed: the inputs and outputs of the process.
  • ‘Interpretation’ analyses the data and leads to recommendations.
  • ‘Footprinting’, or ‘LCA-Lite’, simplifies a life-cycle analysis by focusing on one output (for example, the carbon footprint). This approach is used in our app.
  • Life-cycle analysis shows that heating the water for brewing is the biggest single source of CO2 emissions in producing a cup of coffee and the biggest contributor to  the emissions of a typical cafe.
  • An effective life-cycle analysis can identify the most cost-effective interventions to reduce environmental impacts.
  • The carbon footprint includes the effects of other greenhouse gases, some of which are many times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. In agriculture, methane and nitrous oxide are particularly important.
  • The carbon footprint doesn’t just measure direct emissions. It also includes the effects of land use changes and other practices, such as tree planting, on the overall contribution to the greenhouse effect.


Anthropogenic Caused by human activity.

Life-cycle analysis (LCA) A tool used to estimate the environmental impact of a product or process. An LCA covers the impact of every aspect of the process, from gathering the raw materials through how waste products are managed.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) A gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect, which results in global warming.

Global warming potential (GWP) A measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere, relative to the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide. A gas with a GWP of 2 causes twice as much global warming per kilogram as carbon dioxide. GWP is estimated over a specific time period, usually 100 years.