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glossary book

Sustainability Glossary

Feeling lost in the sea of sustainability buzzwords?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! This glossary is your cheat sheet explaining the key terms you need to know.

Activity-based footprinting

Methodology used by Ecochain Helix to conduct LCA studies in bulk for all products of a factory. The impacts of the factory are allocated across its product portfolio. We discussed its advantages here.

Circular economy

A circular economy is a model of production and consumption that aims to eliminate waste and pollution by keeping materials and products in use for as long as possible. This is achieved through practices like sharing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling. The EU aspires to fully implement a circular economy by 2050. 

Circular product design

Circular design strategies concentrate on both the initial material sourcing (cradle) and the product’s end-of-life phase (grave) within its lifecycle. They prefer recycled materials over primary raw materials. The end-of-life stage is delayed through component repairs and reuse. Ultimately, material recycling is facilitated through take-back initiatives and single-material components, with modular design serving as key measures.


Corporate social responsibility directive (CSRD) refers to the self-regulated efforts of businesses to contribute to societal goals and ethical practices. It involves companies voluntarily integrating environmental, social, and ethical concerns into their operations and interactions with stakeholders. It is closely related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations.


The Environmental Cost Indicator (ECI, or in Dutch: Milieukosten indicator) is a single-score indicator expressed in Euro. It unites the LCA results of all impact categories into a single score of environmental costs, representing the environmental externalities of a product or project. It is based on EN15804+A2, and used in the Dutch construction industry to determine the winning bids in public tenders.

Ecodesign Directive

The European Ecodesign Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC), along with its counterpart, the Energy Labeling Regulation (2017/1369), establishes ecological criteria for designing and enhancing the energy efficiency of the most energy-intensive and greenhouse gas-emitting products across European Union member states.


Ecoinvent is the world’s leading LCI database containing over 18.000 unique datasets. These datasets cover a wide array of products, services, and processes, from building materials to food, and from resource extraction to waste management. Ecoinvent is the largest, most consistent, and most transparent database on the market.


The EN15804+A2, based on ISO 14044 and ISO 14025, is one of the most important sustainability standards for creating EPDs in the construction sector in the European Union. In the Netherlands, the Nationale Milieudatabase (NMD, engl: national environmental database) further specifies this standard in its “Bepalingsmethode Milieuprestatie Bouwwerken” (BMB, engl.: Environmental  Performance Assessment Method for Construction Works), which serves as the basis for ECI/MKI calculations.

Environmental impact category

LCA results present as impact data in several impact categories. There are about 15 impact categories (depending on the LCIA method), because, for example, climate impacts and water footprints can’t be compared directly (just like apples and pears). Different LCIA methods define different impact categories.


Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are standardized, verified documents that transparently present a product’s impact data. They are based on an LCA, adhere to strict regulations and standards (e.g. product category rules), and are generally valid for five years.


The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) was proposed in 2022 as part of the EU Green Deal. Preparations are underway for ESPR to supersede the existing EU Ecodesign Directive. Compared to the current Ecodesign Directive, it will pose a wider range of ecodesign criteria for a wider product range and introduce a digital product passport for all regulated products. This regulation is part of the EU Green Deal.

EU Green Deal

The EU Green Deal is a policy package to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. Immense funds of about 1 trillion euros are available for it. Its promises range from decoupling economic growth from resource use, over nature restoration, to improved public health and well-being.


Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cause climate change. Much sustainability reporting focuses on GHGs because climate change could have catastrophic outcomes for humanity. A widely used GHG reporting scheme is the GHG protocol. Guiding corporations on how to measure and report their climate impacts, it also provides a product carbon footprint standard.

Green Claims

Companies love to market their products as sustainable. However, claims about the environmental merits of products may not be true, or deceivingly formulated -this is called greenwashing. Greenwashing is harmful to a company’s reputation and potentially has legal consequences. Proper green claims are based on valid and transparent data – such as that obtained from an LCA.


Ecochain Helix is LCA software designed for companies with multiple factories to measure the environmental impact of their product portfolio on a large scale. It makes use of activity-based footprinting. The results provide the basis for EPD creation and can be mass exported as PDFs for each product, ideal for communication purposes.


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Impact data

Impact data is the result of an LCA. It entails all emissions of substances into the environment, resource depletion, land- and -water use associated with a product or process. This data is contained in LCI-databases. This data is further transformed into environmental impact category scores, which are another form of impact data and represent the main LCA results.


ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards are internationally agreed documents. The family of ISO 14000 ff sets standards for many aspects of the measurement, management, and communication of a company’s environmental impacts. The methodology of an LCA is defined in ISO 14040 and further specified in ISO14044; all LCA standards from other organizations build upon ISO14040 & -44.


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a scientific methodology used to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of a product, service, or technology throughout its entire life cycle. ISO 14040 outlines the 4 phases of LCA as:

1. Goal and Scope definition

2. Inventory Analysis

3. Impact Assessment

4. Interpretation of results.

LCIA method

The process of translating raw emission data into environmental impact categories is known as the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) method. Various LCIA methods, such as the environmental footprint (EF) method, ReCiPé, and CML 2001, have been developed by different organizations, each tailored to specific research and geographical contexts. These methods vary in terms of characterization factors and impact categories. LCA guidelines frequently recommend the adoption of a particular LCIA method.

LCIA database

Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) databases offer crucial secondary impact information for conducting Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs). LCI datasets, sourced from these databases, precisely indicate the environmental impacts attributed to a product or process. This facilitates faster execution of LCAs. The most frequently utilized database is Ecoinvent.

Life cycle models (scope)

Life cycle models, such as Cradle-to-grave, Cradle-to-gate, and Cradle-to-cradle conceptualize which life cycle stages are included in an LCA – they define an LCA’s scope. The five life cycle stages are raw material extraction (cradle), manufacturing, transportation, product use, and end-of-life disposal (grave).


Ecochain Mobius, LCA software built for the business user, helps you measure your product’s footprint with easy-to-make LCAs. Scenario comparisons yield actionable insights for sustainable product design in a click. Results are exportable in PDF format for transparent communication.


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A Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) quantifies the GHG emissions associated with a product throughout its life cycle. While all Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) standards provide PCF data alongside other impact metrics, there are also specialized PCF standards like ISO 14067, GHG Protocol Product Standard, PAS 2050, and the Pathfinder Framework.


Product Category Rules (PCRs) are sets of specific rules, requirements, or guidelines for conducting LCAs or creating EPDs for a particular product category. Consistent methodologies help to compare impact data among products within a category. PCRs are developed by entities such as the EU for the PEF and by program operators for EPDs.


The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a LCA guideline established by the European Commission to standardize LCA methodologies across various product categories. It introduces its own LCIA method, known as the environmental footprint (EF) method, and an open-access LCI database. The PEF methodology, including the development of PCRs, is currently underway, and therefore the utilization of PEF is not currently obligatory under any EU legislation.

Sensitivity analysis

The data used in LCA is sometimes uncertain, for example, we need to estimate the amount of material inputs or could use alternative datasets. Sensitivity analysis shows you the effect of data variations on your LCA results. If the data variation changes your LCA results by more than 5%, it’s crucial to get this input data right. If not, an approximation is acceptable.





Any questions related to your use cases and our solutions? Book a call with our sustainable business specialist, Kim.

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Kim Rosen Jacobsen Sustainable business specialist