Database for Life Cycle Inventories

ecoinvent breaks new ground

Aug 5, 2014 | MARTINA PETER
In March this year, ecoinvent with its Life Cycle Inventory database has taken the step towards independence. The newly founded association is supported by institutions including Empa, Agroscope, the EPF Lausanne, the ETH Zurich and the Paul Scherrer Institute – the same organizations, in fact, which since the very beginning, more than a decade ago have significantly contributed to the success of ecoinvent.
It is now thirty years since Empa began to conduct life cycle assessments of consumer-goods packaging. In 1984 the first scientific publication on this topic appeared.
Life cycle assessment has a long tradition at Empa. Exactly thirty years ago the very first such analysis by Empa was published on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office of Environmental Protection, now the Federal Office of the Environment, SFOE, under the title «The Life Cycle Assessment of Packaging Materials». It helped the Swiss wholesalers of consumer goods to see the importance of using optimized packaging already early on. Merely being lightweight is not enough – modern packaging must be suitable for recycling or at least designed to be disposed of in the household waste in a simple way. Today such design considerations are made with the help of ecoinvent, a database in which these life cycle inventory data have been transferred to at the beginning of this millennium.
Life cycle assessment provides the means of evaluating in detail the environmental impact of a product in its entirety and over its complete lifetime – from the point at which the raw materials are extracted at the mine, to the land requirements and water consumption, through to the waste generated by the products at the end of its life. Evaluating all this requires an enormous quantity of data – the so-called life cycle inventories.
The ecoinvent association plays a central role in providing reliable life cycle inventory data and has been the driving force in this area since its beginnings. Started in 1998 as a research project “ecoinvent 2000” with the goal of developing life cycle inventory database in a consistent format for universities and research institutions, ecoinvent has in the meantime become an indispensable partner for anyone involved in conducting a life cycle analysis. Users can obtain the relevant data for the products and services they are interested in from the ecoinvent database, taking advantage of the several thousand of inventories it contains. This kind of data then forms the bedrock of life cycle assessment projects, eco-design or the provision of product-related environmental information.

  A life cycle assessment evaluates the impacts products have on the environment. Transport routes, which can sometimes be very long, are an important part of this process – here too, ecoinvent supplies the relevant data.

The latest version of the life cycle inventory database ecoinvent, the Version 3.1, was released at the beginning of July. It offers users significantly more application opportunities than the previous version with its hundreds of new, internationally oriented, quality assured and transparent inventories in the fields of wood production, transport, drinking water and other industrial sectors. The updating of the existing data also gives a more accurate picture of regional differences in the manufacture and management of the products to be shown.
ecoinvent intends to continue to extend the database in the future. The reliability and transparency of the data are major reasons for its continuing success. In addition, all ecoinvent users can simultaneously act as data providers by adding to it their own inventories drawn from all over the world, thus contributing to the further internationalization of the database. Empa and the other supporting organizations will also remain active in this respect, thereby maintaining their central role in the growth of this internationally unique database.
About ecoinvent
ecoinvent is an association with its headquarters in Zurich, established by the following supporting institutions: Agroscope, Empa, the EPF Lausanne, the ETH Zürich and the Paul Scherrer Institute. The life cycle inventory database forms the basis for life cycle assessment projects, eco-design or product related environmental information. Since 2003, ecoinvent has enabled companies to manufacture their products more in harmony with the environment, politicians can base their policies on information drawn from ecoinvent and consumers can adopt a more environmentally friendly behaviour. With its several thousand life cycle inventories and almost 7000 users, ecoinvent is the world’s leading life cycle inventory database. For more information, please visit: and

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