Northwestern University/Coursera

Paper or plastic? Hybrid or conventional vehicles? 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 definition and scope; (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.