An attributional life cycle assessment (ALCA) estimates what share of the global environmental burdens belongs to a product. A consequential LCA (CLCA) gives an estimate of how the global environmental burdens are affected by the production and use of the product. The distinction arose to resolve debates on what input data to use in an LCA and how to deal with allocation problems. An ALCA is based on average data, and allocation is performed by partitioning environmental burdens of a process between the life cycles served by this process. A CLCA ideally uses marginal data in many parts of the life cycle and avoids allocation through system expansion. This chapter aims to discuss and clarify the key concepts. It also discusses pros and cons of different methodological options, based on criteria derived from the starting point that environmental systems analysis should contribute to reducing the negative environmental impacts of humankind or at least reduce the impacts per functional unit: the method should be feasible and generate results that are accurate, comprehensible, inspiring, and robust. The CLCA is more accurate, but ALCA has other advantages. The decision to make an ALCA or a CLCA should ideally be taken by the LCA practitioner after discussions with the client and possibly with other stakeholders and colleagues.
Part of the book: Sustainability Assessment at the 21st century