Life Cycle Assessment Modeling

James Stone, Civil and Environmental Engineering,
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology


This is an interdisciplinary lecture and computational laboratory course where students will focus on the computational structure and data sources required to complete an environmental LCA. The course is delivered using a problem based learning approach, utilizing many of the LCA modeling software available. Each of the projects will be completed within interdisciplinary teams where the students will work on an assigned or selected topic of interest.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:

University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

The course will be open to all students on my campus, which primarily consists of engineering and science majors. As a result, students may have a wide range of background and interest in this topic. Many of the students will be interested in integrating sustainability principles, and specifically LCA methodology, into their graduate research or within their engineering profession after they graduate.

Course Content:

As with most of the courses I teach, the course will be delivered using a project or problem based learning approach. The course will start with introducing the computational structure of LCA, including goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, and impacts assessment. We utilize many of the LCA modeling software available such as GREET (transportation sector biofuels; ), Earthsmart (web-based LCA model; that uses the Ecoinvent database; ), Open LCA (free open-source LCA software; ), and Sitewise (sustainable environmental remediation). Each of the projects will be completed within interdisciplinary teams where the students will work on an assigned or selected topic of interest.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to define a goal, develop a system boundary, select or aggregate inventories, and complete an assessment for a selected service or product. Through the course, I am trying to increase their understanding of sustainability and to enhance their ability to effectively communicate their findings to a variety of audiences, whether to the public, policy makers, or campus colleagues.

Course Features:

The students will work on several project modules that will be either related to their graduate research or a product or process that they have a personal interest in. The students will develop a report and deliver an oral presentation for each of the course projects. At the end of the semester, I will have a campus-wide poster session, likely during one of the many annual sustainability events we have on our campus. Again, it is important that the student learn to effectively disseminate their findings to a wide audience.

Course Philosophy:

LCA provides a holistic view of the environmental impacts associated with a product or process from a "cradle to grave" perspective following international standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization, ISO (e.g., ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006). Mandates requiring LCA evaluations are becoming increasingly common within state governments and industries for the promotion of sustainability. LCA methodology has historically been developed to provide a comprehensive environmental evaluation of a product or system. The students will develop a LCA project and will be required to identify "triple bottom line" criteria from their findings that address economic, environment, and societal implications of their selected good or service. The course experience will be very helpful for the students as they enter their profession as most engineering employers are actively integrating or addressing sustainability mandates within their respective marketplace.


Students will be assessed on the basis of their weekly writing assignments (incremental progress on their LCA modeling efforts), class participation, projects, and quizzes.


References and Notes:

The hitchhiker's guide to LCA – Bauman and Tillman. ISBN 9144023642

Sustainability: A comprehensive foundation – Theis, Tomkin. Etext:

Learn more from James Stone's essay: Teaching Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Modeling through Project Based Learning