Impact of Free Trade and Lengthening Supply Chains on Life Cycle Assessment of Industrial Products

EPA Grant Number: F5A10012
Title: Impact of Free Trade and Lengthening Supply Chains on Life Cycle Assessment of Industrial Products
Investigators: Weber, Christopher L.
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2005 through August 1, 2008
Project Amount: $111,172
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2005) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


This project will study how the lengthening of forward and reverse supply chains, due to the increase of global free trade over the past half century, has impacted the embodied energy and environmental emissions of several industrial products. Two potential impacts of free trade will be analyzed: differing production practices in different countries and increased travel distance by several methods of transport.

The objective of the research is to qualify and quantify whether increased international trade and the overall globalization of world economies has had an effect on life cycle environmental impacts of important economic products.


A hybrid life cycle assessment (LCA) approach will be utilized, incorporating Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment as well as process-based LCA studies. Input-output tables and available trade records from several countries will be analyzed using several statistical techniques to model trade patterns and the lengths of forward and reverse supply chains.

Expected Results:

It is expected that due to production practice differences and the lengthening of transportation chains, there will be a noticeable impact on life cycle energy and emissions due to the rise of free trade. It is further anticipated that these changes will represent a net transfer of environmental impacts from certain regions to others, especially for the case of reverse supply chain recycling and disposal methods.

Supplemental Keywords:

life cycle assessment, embodied energy, supply chain, international trade, economic input-output analysis,, RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Economics, decision-making, Economics & Decision Making, emission levels, economic research, economic benefits, environmental decision making, decision making, economic incentives, cost benefit, environmental impact comparison, economic reform, environmental policy, life cycle assessment, supply chains, cost effectiveness

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2006
  • 2007
  • Final