Purpose The European Commission has launched a recommended set of characterization models and factors for application in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). However, it is not known how this recommended practice, referred to as the ILCD 2009, performs relative to some of the most frequently used alternative LCIA methodologies. Here, we compare the ILCD 2009 with IMPACT 2002+ and ReCiPe 2008, focusing on characterization at midpoint based on a case study comparing four window design options for use in a residential building. Methods Ranking of the four window options was done for each impact category within each methodology. To allow comparison across the methodologies both in terms of total impact scores and contribution patterns for individual substances, impact scores were converted into common metrics for each impact category. Results and discussion Apart from toxic impacts on human health and ecosystems, all studied methodologies consistently identify the same window option as having the lowest and the highest environmental impact. This is mainly because few processes, associated with production of heat, dominate the total impacts, and there is a large difference in demand for heat between the compared options. Despite this general agreement in ranking, differences in impact scores are above 3 orders of magnitude for human health impacts from ionizing radiation and ecosystem impacts from land use, and they lie between 1 and 3 orders of magnitude for metal depletion and for toxicityrelated impact categories. The differences are somewhat smaller (within 1 order of magnitude) for the impact categories respiratory inorganics and photochemical ozone formation, and are within a factor of 3 for the remaining impact categories. The differences in impact scores in our case study are brought about by the differences in underlying characterization models and/or substance coverage, depending on the impact category. Conclusions In spite of substantial differences in impact scores for the individual impact categories, we find that the studied LCIA methods point to the same conclusion with respect to identifying the alternative with the lowest environmental burden and ascribe this to the fact that few processes are driving the main environmental impacts, and there is large difference in demand for output from these processes between the compared options. Even though the overall conclusions remain the same for our case study, the choice of the ILCD’s recommended practice over the existing alternatives does matter for the impact categories ionizing radiation and land use and all toxicity-related impact categories.
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2014, Vol 19, Issue 5, p. 1007-1021