Home > Events > REI Colloquium: Chris Costello, Ethical Issues in Life Cycle Analysis


REI Colloquium: Chris Costello, Ethical Issues in Life Cycle Analysis

Ethical Issues in Life Cycle Analysis
by David Price Nov 05, 2020
When Nov 09, 2020
from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Where Virtual (Zoom)
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Ethical Issues in Life Cycle Analysis


Chris Costello

Chris Costello

Assistant Professor of Industrial Ecology
Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute

Abstract: Life cycle analysis is a quantitative approach to assessing environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process or service over it’s entire supply chain, or “life cycle,” from origin of raw materials to final disposal. Over the last 15 or so years there have been efforts to incorporate “social” aspects of production into life cycle analysis frameworks. My research is centered on agricultural, food, and bio-energy and –materials. LCA was developed with a focus on manufacturing processes, materials selection, energy efficiency, and logistics questions. As LCA is applied to agricultural and food systems and methods attempt to include social dimensions of production systems, a number of questions arise. Further, this are other fields of expertise that have developed approaches to evaluating the “sustainability” of agricultural systems, which tend to be more focused on economic, social, and cultural aspects of sustainability.  

As the LCA community attempts to wade into more qualitative and even philosophical waters it’s becoming clear that there is much to learn and many limitations to how LCA can be applied. There are blind spots in shared knowledge of history and a lack of clarity about underlying philosophies and ethics of the method and the data collected and utilized to represent sustainability. There has been some work to identify the underlying philosophies of Industrial Ecology, which is the theoretical umbrella covering LCA.

Chris Costello joined Penn State in December 2019 as an assistant professor of industrial ecology in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and a research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute. Her core areas of expertise include quantifying the environmental impacts of agricultural and food systems and simulating future hydrology and crop responses under a changing climate to anticipate adaptive management needs. She is motivated in her work by a faith that humanity can and will choose to optimize the systems we create to improve quality of life for all humans as well as the ecosystems that support them.


Prior to joining Penn State, Costello was an assistant professor in the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering department and an assistant research professor in Biological Engineering at the University of Missouri. She also held courtesy appointments in civil and environmental engineering and the Truman School of Public Affairs at Mizzou. She received her B.S. in environmental engineering technology from Temple University; MS & PhD in civil & environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon University; and spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. She has worked as a consultant to industry for environmental remediation projects and as an intern with the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 3 and Headquarters.

This talk will be presented via Zoom. If you are interested in attending, please contact our assistant director, Ben Jones, at