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Northwestern University

How Green Is That Product? An Introduction to Life Cycle Environmental Assessment

Northwestern University via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


Paper or plastic? Local or imported food? Which is better for the environment? To answer these questions, one must take a holistic systems view using a quantitative approach known as life cycle assessment.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a fundamental method for assessing the environmental impacts of products and technologies from a "cradle to grave" systems perspective. It is an essential tool for anyone who performs environmental analyses or uses the results of such analyses for decision making. 

The course will provide an introduction to LCA methods and applications. Students taking this course will emerge with a solid understanding of why an LCA systems perspective is important, basic skills for sound application of the LCA method and proper interpretation of its results, and an appreciation for the strengths and limitations of LCA in practice. The course will cover the four major steps in LCA: (1) goal and scope definition; (2) life-cycle inventory compilation; (3) life-cycle impact assessment; and (4) interpretation and management. The course will include a hands-on modeling project, which the students will perform in parallel to the lectures to reinforce learning objectives and to gain experience in LCA application.


- The basics of energy and mass flows and exchanges with the environment
- Working with unit processes and unit process inventory data
- Study design: goal definition, system boundaries, and functional units
- Compiling the data: life-cycle inventory methods (process-based and input-output methods)
- Understanding impacts: life-cycle impact analysis for land, air, water, and health
- Building a simple LCA model using spreadsheet software
- Results interpretation and reporting

Taught by

Eric Masanet


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

Start your review of How Green Is That Product? An Introduction to Life Cycle Environmental Assessment

  • Patrick E.
    Great course that teaches the basics of life cycle assessment. Homework assignments are very interesting and show you how to do a LCA using a spreadsheet. The only drawback I can think of is that there is quite a bit of 'hand-holding' when it comes to the homework, so the course is rather easy for people with prior knowledge. However, I think this course is a must take for people interested in sustainability or environmental impact assessment.

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