Frequently Asked Questions

This page will organize answers to the typical questions we receive regarding the LCA textbook project and this web resource in general.


Q: Why did you write this book?

A: As noted in the preface of the book, we felt that an LCA Textbook was needed, and that the methods and examples we had developed over teaching LCA courses for 10 years could provide substantial content for a book.  While there are/were other books published on the general topic of LCA they generally lacked the examples and specific details needed to teach a university-level course.


Q:  If I am a teacher, why should I adopt this book?

A:  Because we wrote this book with you in mind.  Life cycle assessment is a conceptually easy topic to teach, as there is an ISO Standard to follow.  What was missing, though, was a single textbook resource to both reinforce the Standard and to show quantitatively how to apply the Standard to make decisions.  As educators ourselves, we know the kinds of books that get adopted are written by a small group of authors.  Handbooks and many-author books generally fail to achieve the consistent voice and framing needed for a textbook .  In short, we sought to write the kind of text that will be adopted and that will be successful.


Q: How was the book road tested?

A: Preview copies of the book were distributed to academic colleagues who attended the ACLCA’s LCA XIII Conference in 2013.  We road-tested drafts of the book in about 10 courses in the Western Hemisphere for almost 2 years before making this first version widely available in 2014.


Q: If it is so good, why make the book free?

A: As with other previous LCA resources we developed, we aimed to achieve high market share (in this case, mind share).  While some may associate “free” as having no value, we feel this textbook has substantial value but is free.  We are also concerned about the accessibility of LCA resources in the developing world, and are partnering with colleagues in various countries to have the book translated to local languages.   By the way, so that we aren’t viewed as completely altruistic, its hard to make any significant money from writing a textbook, unless its “Calculus 101”, so foregoing a small amount of income (split three ways) was an easy decision.


Q: How were you able to make it free?  Did you receive funding for this project?

A: Not really.  The only “funding” one could associate with this project so far is the half-time sabbatical benefit that Scott Matthews received from Carnegie Mellon in 2013-14.


Q:  Is the book geared more for undergraduate or graduate student courses?  For relatively less scientific audiences?

A:  Our course at CMU is aimed at upper-level undergraduates and first-year graduate students with interest in environmental analysis, so the target audience was this group.  Non-engineering faculty at other schools have adopted the book, so it could be used in a variety of settings.  Regardless, LCA is not a domain where calculus is necessary to solve problems.  The reason that LCA appeals to non-engineering audiences is that it is a quantitative framework that is accessible to many audiences.


Q: Can this book be useful if I am not teaching a whole course on LCA?

A: While the book was intended to be comprehensive enough to be used for a semester-long course (or maybe slightly more), there are various chapters that could be extracted and adapted for use in scaled-down treatments of life cycle assessment.  The first few chapters could be assigned if you were only spending 1 or 2 lectures on the topic.  The first 5 chapters could be used for a 2-3 week course module.  Several of our road test partners were using the book as an LCA module.  We made some edits based on these types of uses.  We have further modifications planned for future revisions.  And, if not obvious, the fact that the book is free lowers the barrier to adopting the book in any of these instances.


Q: Will the book be available in normal printed format?

A:  We have no plans to do typical publishing of the book at this point in time.  The benefit of a digital book is that we can make edits as needed and in real time.


Q:  How does this book compare to other textbooks that have been released?

A: We did not know of any other published  textbooks before starting this project, and we have not read any during or after finishing this book, so we have no way of comparing.  If you do such comparisons, please let us know in the comments below!


3 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions

  1. As someone who’s been working on LCA for > 10 years, I 110% agree with everything above.

    There’s been a severe lack of a resource that explains LCA with actual examples. The authors are leaders in LCA methodology and practice, it’s great that they’ve contributed their time to develop this superb resource for the community.

    Use it!

    -Eric Williams
    Golisano Institute for Sustainability
    Rochester Institute of Technology

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