Is mainstream LCA linear?

Reinout Heijungs*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: It is frequently mentioned in literature that LCA is linear, without a proof, or even without a clear definition of the criterion for linearity. Here we study the meaning of the term linear, and in relation to that, the question if LCA is indeed linear. Methods: We explore the different meanings of the term linearity in the context of mathematical models. This leads to a distinction between linear functions, homogeneous functions, homogenous linear functions, bilinear functions, and multilinear functions. Each of them is defined in accessible terms and illustrated with examples. Results: We analyze traditional, matrix-based, LCA, and conclude that LCA is not linear in any of the senses defined. Discussion and conclusions: Despite the negative answer to the research question, there are many respects in which LCA can be regarded to be, at least to some extent, linear. We discuss a few of such cases. We also discuss a few practical implications for practitioners of LCA and for developers of new methods for LCI and LCIA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1872-1882
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number10
Early online date21 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2020


  • LCA
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Linear models
  • Linearity
  • Nonlinear models


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