CSRD and LCA, what is the difference?

LCA and CSRD, two different approaches

CSRD (and GHG Protocol Corporate Standards) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) are two different approaches with a lot in common.
The main differences are:

  1. LCA has the concept of Areas of Protection, (human health, eco-systems, natural resources) that leads to a broader set of substances “combined” to a limited set of end-scores
  2. LCA has a more comprehensive level of analyses of the use phase and the end-of-life options (landfill, combustion with and without heat recovery, recycling: up- as well as downcycling)
  3. LCA is at the level of products (its functionality for the user), where the GHG Protocol Corporate Standards is at the level of  organizations (management of the data)

Looking at these 3 differences, one might conclude that LCA is much better than the CSRD/GHG Corporate

Standards, but that is not necessarily so: it depends on the purpose for the user, since LCA also has some drawbacks when comparing to the CSRD/GHG approach, especially for companies:

  • ad 1. The LCA approach introduces complex systems with uncertainties, to enable comparison of  issues that cannot  easily be compared
  • ad 2. The extension of the analysis beyond the factory gate (incorporating the entire life cycle) requires a lot of additional data and assumptions, leading to uncertainties
  • ad.3 Common use of resources in the organization have to be allocated to individual products, where the allocation technique (based on mass, volume, energy, chemical content, number of units, or monetary value) is basically an arbitrary choice.

So, the more comprehensive analysis come at the costs of a lot of uncertainty, as well of a lot of work. A simple ‘cradle-to- gate of the factory approach’ only, in terms of CO2equ, is therefore an advantage in terms of change management.

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Looking at the advantages and the disadvantages, the conclusion is that the two approaches are  complementary and can be used together to provide a more comprehensive view of an organization’s emissions, and resource use, as well as to provide guidance on how to reduce these emissions.
The cradle-to-gate approach of the GHG Protocol works very well with regard to enhancing the materials and energy efficiency of manufacturing itself: issues for operational management. However, it does not work well for product innovation, since then the use-phase and the end-of-life (e.g. recycling) play a major role.
Note that once a company has implemented LCA on product level, the required data are sufficient to also report in accordance with the GHG protocol on company level, as well as comply with the CSRD standards, (including E2-E5).