Determining reference flows

The reference flows are the specific product flows for each of the compared product alternatives.

The reference flow is thus a quantified amount of the product(s), including product parts, necessary for a specific product system to deliver the performance described by the functional unit.

For a composite product, the reference flow will typically be identical to the list of the product parts, multiplied by a factor to scale it to the functional unit. The purpose of the reference flows is to translate the abstract functional unit into specific product flows for each of the compared systems, so that product alternatives are compared on an equivalent basis, reflecting the actual consequences of the potential product substitution or alternatives.

Important aspects to address in relation to the reference flow for alternatives are: 

  • Difference in performance of product systems,
  • Differences in price and time consumption (rebound effect)
  • Effects on overall productivity of society.

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How to cite this: 
Consequential-LCA (2015). Determining reference flows. Last updated: 2015-10-27.