Life cycle-based sustainability standards and guidelines

Standards are based on a set of metrics that allow comparison across products, organizations, or both. An overview of the latest LCA standards can help organizations to keep abreast of developments in global and regional sustainability reporting, and to understand which standards apply to their sector and how to meet them. That way, they can get the most out of their sustainability investments in a practical and timely way. What follows, then, is an overview of the best-known standards and guidelines for the product level, the organization level, or both, as well as a sneak peek at standards now under development.

1. Product standards and guidelines

  • ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 on life cycle assessment

These are the leading international standards on life cycle assessment (LCA). They focus mainly on the process of performing LCA, following a product’s impact from cradle to grave. ISO 14040 describes the ”principles and framework for LCA”, while the ISO 14044 “specifies requirements and provides guidelines” for LCA.

  • ISO 14067 on the carbon footprint of products

ISO 14067 “specifies principles, requirements and guidelines for the quantification and reporting of the carbon footprint of a product”— that is, its impact on climate change. “Carbon offsetting and communication of CFP” are “outside the scope” of the standard.

The standard is consistent with ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. However, it also includes requirements on specific issues relevant to carbon footprinting, including land-use change, carbon uptake, biogenic carbon emissions, and soil carbon change.

  • ISO 14020, ISO 14021, ISO 14024, ISO 14025, and ISO 14026 on environmental labels

These standards set out principles, requirements and guidelines for the development and use of environmental labels and declarations, as well as for the communication of footprint information.

Country-specific standards

Across the globe, countries have formulated a large variety of standards and guidelines. The following country-specific standard are well known.

  • ILCD (EU) on life cycle assessment

The International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) handbook, which was developed by the European Commission Joint Research Centre, offers technical guidelines on conducting detailed LCA studies. It contains detailed descriptions and requirements in order to reduce flexibility in choices and to support the consistency of LCA results and quality assurance related to these. It is consistent with the ISO 14040 and 14044 LCA standards.

  • PAS 2050 (UK) on greenhouse gas emissions

PAS 2050 provides a method and guidelines for calculating greenhouse gas emissions “within the life cycle of goods and services.” It was one of the first standards for calculating carbon footprints, and it has been applied in many countries around the world.

  • BP X30-323 (France) on environmental footprinting

The BPX 30-323 series describes the method for assessing the life cycle environmental impact of various products. It also includes guidelines for product-specific communication and environmental labeling.

  • EcoLeaf Environmental Labeling Program (Japan)

EcoLeaf environmental labeling describes the methodology for assessing the environmental impact of products throughout their life cycle. This framework is a result of the integration of two different Japanese frameworks, EcoLeaf and Carbon Footprint of Products (CFP). The framework is consistent with the LCA ISO 14040 series.

  • Carbon Footprint of Products and Environmental Product Declaration (Korea)

Carbon footprint of products (CFP) provides guidelines for assessing the life cycle carbon footprint of products. Three “phases” of carbon-footprint labeling are included: “Certification of Carbon Emissions (Phase 1), Certification of Low Carbon Products (Phase 2), and Certification of Carbon Neutral Products (Phase 3).” The environmental product declaration provides guidelines for assessing the life cycle environmental impacts of products in Korea.

Product-specific standards

In addition to the generic product standards and guidelines, there are more-product-specific international standards.

  • ISO 22526 parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 on carbon footprint and removals for biobased plastics

The ISO 22526 series, parts 1, 2, and 3 (part 4 is under development), sets out the principles, requirements, and guidelines for the quantification of, and reporting on, the carbon footprint throughout the life cycle of partly or wholly biobased plastics. The process carbon footprinting of biobased plastics (part 3) is carried out in accordance with the ISO 14067 guidelines on carbon footprinting. The series also sets out the standard for determining the material carbon footprint for the carbon dioxide that is removed from the air and that is incorporated into a given plastic product.

  • ISO 20915 on life cycle inventory for steel products

ISO 20915 specifies requirements and guidelines for conducting life cycle inventory (LCI) studies for steel products, including closed-loop recycling. ISO 20915 is consistent with the principles of international LCA standards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 and indicates how these principles can be applied to the manufacturing and recycling of steel products.

2. Standards and guidelines for corporations and other organizations

  • ISO 14063 on environmental communication

ISO 14063 “gives guidelines to organizations for general principles, policy, strategy and activities relating to both internal and external environmental communication.” It is “applicable to all organizations regardless of their size, type, location, structure, activities, products and services.”. It “can be used in combination with any of the ISO 14000 family of standards, or on its own.”

  • ISO 14064, parts 1, 2 and 3, on greenhouse gases and removals

ISO 14064 series specifies the principles and requirements for the quantification, monitoring, reporting, verification and validation of activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or of ways to enhance removal, at the organization and project level. These standards set out, among other things, the requirements for GHG project planning, as well as guidelines for identifying GHG sources, sinks and reservoirs. Part 1 focuses on the organization level part 2 focuses on the project level, while part 3 “provides guidance for verifying and validating greenhouse gas (GHG) statements.”

  • ISO 14080 on greenhouse gas management and climate actions

ISO 14080 set out the guidelines and principles for identifying, assessing, revising, developing, and managing methodologies for actions that address climate change, “including adaptation to its impacts and [greenhouse gas] mitigation.”

  • ISO 14069 on guidance for the application of ISO 14064-1

ISO 14069 sets out the “principles, concepts, and methods relating to the quantification and reporting of direct and indirect [greenhouse gas] emissions for an organization.” It also provides guidance “for the quantification and reporting of direct emissions, energy indirect emissions, and other indirect emissions.”

  • ISO 14072 on effective application of ISO 14040/44 to organizations

ISO 14072 is a technical specification that sets out “additional requirements and guidelines for an effective application of ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 to organizations.” Among other things, it “details

  • the application of [LCA] principles and methodology to organizations,
  • the benefits that LCA can bring to organizations, by applying the LCA methodology at organizational level
  • the system boundary
  • specific considerations when dealing with LCI, LCIA, and interpretation, and
  • the limitations regarding reporting, environmental declarations and comparative assertions.”

Country-specific standards and guidelines

  • BS 8001 (UK) on the circular economy

BS 8001 sets out guidelines and recommendations for organizations that aim to apply the circular economy concept to their activities, deliver social and financial benefits, and improve their environmental performance through the efficient use of resources.

  • DEFRA (UK) on greenhouse gas emissions

The United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has published Guidance on how to measure and report your greenhouse gas emissions to help organizations of all sizes report their scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions, and to help companies reduce their carbon emissions. Based on the greenhouse gas protocol, it also complements both PAS 2050 and ISO 14040. Beyond its reporting recommendations, the guide also contains information on setting targets for reductions and indicates how to convey additional information on reductions.

  • Bilans GES (France) on greenhouse gas emissions

Bilans GES, developed by ADEME in France, offers guidelines and recommendations for organizations on determining and reporting on their greenhouse gas emissions (scope 1, 2 and 3) . The principle is consistent with the ISO 14064 standard on these emissions.

3. Combined standards and guidelines

Combined standards and guidelines contain information for environmental assessments at the product, organization, and country levels.

  • ISO 14046 on water footprint

ISO 14046 sets out “principles, requirements and guidelines related to water footprint assessment of products, processes and organizations based on life cycle assessment (LCA).” It is consistent with the international ISO 14044 LCA standard.

  • Global Water Footprint Standard

The global water footprint standard in the Water Footprint Assessment Manual offers guidelines on the water footprinting of individual processes and products, on carrying out water-footprint sustainability assessments, and on using the results to prioritize strategic actions to be taken at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

  • ISO 14001, 14006, 14007, 14008, and 14009 on environmental management systems

The ISO 14000 series (14001, 14006, 14007, 14008, 14009) sets out requirements and guidelines for environmental management systems for organizations. “Consistent with the organization’s environmental policy, the intended outcomes of an environmental management system include:

  • enhancement of environmental performance;
  • fulfilment of compliance obligations;
  • achievement of environmental objectives.”

The standards also set out guidelines and principles for eco-design, measuring environmental costs and benefits, assessing environmental impacts in monetary terms, and incorporating material circulation into the design and development of products.

  • Greenhouse gas protocol standards at the product and organization levels

The greenhouse gas protocol provides standards for measuring life cycle greenhouse gas emissions at the product and organization levels. The Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard sets out guidelines that organizations can use to measure the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of their products. The corporate accounting and reporting standard specifies the requirements for companies to record their greenhouse gas emissions. The corporate value chain (scope 3) accounting and reporting standard provides guidance to companies on measuring emissions across their entire value chains, and not just the emissions from their operations and electricity consumption.

Country-specific combined standards and guidelines

  • Environmental Footprint (EU)

The European Commission has developed a harmonized Environmental Footprint methodology to measure and communicate the environmental performance of products and organizations. The resulting methods are the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and the Organization Environmental Footprint (OEF). The two methods are interlinked and have many elements in common. The guidelines on conducting PEF and OEF tests fall under the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules and the Organization Environmental Footprint Sector Rules.

  • PAS 2060 (UK) on carbon neutrality

PAS 2060 sets out the requirements for achieving and demonstrating carbon neutrality by quantifying, reducing, and offsetting GHG emissions from products, entities, and activities.

4. Standards that are under development

The following sustainability standards that currently are in the development phase.

  • ISO 14068 on carbon neutrality

ISO 14068 will be a standard for organizations, part of the aforementioned 14060 family of standards. Its main focus will be on GHG management and carbon neutrality.

  • ISO 59004, 59010, 59020 on the circular economy

This ISO series (ISO 59004, 59010, 59020) will set out guidelines and principles for implementing and measuring circularity and for circular business models and value chains.

  • ISO 14074 on life cycle assessment on normalization, weighting, and interpretation

ISO 14074 will set out guidelines, requirements, and principles for normalization, weighting, and interpretation of LCAs.

  • ISO 14097 on greenhouse gas reporting for financing activities

ISO 14097 will set out principles and requirements for assessing and reporting on financing activities and investments related to climate change.

Georgios Pallas


I believe that with the right use of data, metrics and tools we can create a bright future for all. I get energy by delving into data and finding insights that can help organizations make better decisions towards sustainability and competitiveness in a quickly changing world.

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