Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an environmental accounting tool aimed at determining environmental impacts of products, processes, or organizational activities over the entire life cycle. Although this technique already provides decision-makers in other sectors with valuable information, its application in the health care setting has not yet been examined.
The aim of this study was to provide a comprehensive overview of scientific research on the application of LCA in hospitals and its contribution to management decision-making.
We perform a systematic literature review by searching a range of databases with synonyms of “LCA” in combination with the term “hospital” in order to identify peer-reviewed studies. The final sample of 43 studies were then subjected to a content analysis.
We categorize existing research and show that single and multi-indicator LCA approaches are used to examine several products and processes in hospitals. The various approaches are favored by different scientific communities. Whereas researchers from environmental sciences perform complex multi-indicator LCA studies, researchers from health care sciences focus on footprints. The studies compare alternatives and identify environmental impacts and harmful hotspots.
LCA results can support health care managers’ traditional decision-making by providing environmental information. With this additional information regarding the environmental impacts of products and processes, managers can implement organizational changes to improve their environmental performance. Furthermore, they can influence upstream and downstream activities. However, we recommend more transdisciplinary cooperation for LCA studies and to place more focus on actionable recommendations when publishing the results.