The ever-increasing demand for products is putting added pressure on the environment. Exploitation of resources and manufacturing of products are creating potentially devastating stresses on the natural world. The new standards will facilitate the process of evaluating the impacts that a product has on the environment over its entire life, thereby encouraging the efficient use of resources and decreasing liabilities.

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is the assessment of the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan.

The goal of LCA is to compare the environmental performance of products in order to be able to choose the least burdensome. The term 'life cycle' refers to the notion that for a fair, holistic assessment the raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal (including all intervening transportation steps) need to be assessed. This then is the 'life cycle' of the product. The concept can also be used to optimize the environmental performance of a single product (ecodesign) or that of a company.

"The development of the International Standards for life cycle assessment is an important step to consolidate procedures and methods of LCA," said Melanie Raimbault, Secretary of the ISO subcommittee that developed the new standards. "Their contribution is crucial to the general acceptance of LCA by all stakeholders and by the international community."

ISO 14040:2006, Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework, provides a clear overview of the practice, applications and limitations of LCA to a broad range of potential users and stakeholders, including those with a limited knowledge of life cycle assessment.

ISO 14044:2006, Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Requirements and guidelines, is designed for the preparation of, conduct of, and critical review of, life cycle inventory analysis. It also provides guidance on the impact assessment phase of LCA and on the interpretation of LCA results, as well as the nature and quality of the data collected.  

ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006 replace the previous standards (ISO 14040:1997, ISO 14041:1999, ISO 14042:2000 and ISO 14043:2000). The new editions have been updated to improve the readability, while leaving the requirements and technical content unaffected, except for errors and inconsistencies.

ISO 14040:2006 costs 96 Swiss francs ISO 14044:2006 costs 146 and are available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat (see below). The new standards are the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, subcommittee SC 5, Life cycle assessment.