Functionality-based life cycle assessment framework: An information and communication technologies (ICT) product case study

Lin Shi, Katharine J. Mach, Sangwon Suh, Adam Brandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Life cycle assessment (LCA) has been widely applied to assessing the environmental impacts of information and communication technologies (ICT) products throughout their lifetime. Building upon LCA methodology, this study proposes a user-oriented, functionality-based LCA (FLCA) framework that evaluates the environmental impact of multifunctional ICT products such as smartphones. Incorporating the quality function deployment and LCA literature, we develop an approach that highlights the linkages among user behavior, product functionalities, and product environmental footprints. We use matrix algebra to outline a computational method and a streamlined process to operationalize such analysis. FLCA analyzes the impact of materials in the context of how they are used. To illustrate the concept with a simple example, our first case study calculates the manufacturing GHG emissions of a well-known multifunctional product, a Swiss Army knife. In the second case study, we estimate the functionality-based GHG emissions of a hypothetical smartphone. We consider various scopes of impact, including at the levels of device, infrastructure, and supply chains. Extending from LCA methods, FLCA moves away from a general understanding of functionality to a more granular perspective to accommodate the complexity in modern ICT products. Our study advances a user-oriented perspective to understand product sustainability impacts. Additionally, it offers a method to provide empirical evidence of the “hidden” impacts of industrial products during consumption, enabling more precise linkage of the production-consumption relationship through LCA toward better design to uncover and address users' needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • consumer behavior
  • electronics
  • industrial ecology
  • information and communication technologies
  • life cycle assessment
  • product design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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