Challenges in Extracting Insights from Life Cycle Assessment Documents During Early Stage Design

Goridkov N, Ye K, Wang Y, and Goucher-Lambert K. 2023. Proceedings of the Design Society: 24th International Conference on Engineering Design.


Life cycle assessment (LCA) has been established as a benchmark for design for sustainability practices. LCA provides detailed technical documents regarding a product’s environmental impact, but its use is often limited to trained experts who share the knowledge with designers. Life cycle experts are highly specialized, and the typical designer faces technical barriers and time constraints in extracting information from LCA documents. This work uses knowledge transfer principles to replicate expert practices in LCA information retrieval to support designers. Life-cycle experts (n=4) were interviewed to understand practices and challenges in information retrieval for LCA documents. Interview findings were used to create a set of guidelines for effectively navigating LCA documents and then tested in a follow-up task where designers (n=16) annotated an electric toothbrush LCA using the identified guidelines. Results find designers can effectively extract information from LCA documents given provided guidelines, but need detailed support interpreting complex visual entities like charts and figures. This work is the first step toward enabling knowledge transfer from LCA documents and building a structured sustainability knowledge base.