Life Cycle Analysis, The Emerging Paradigm of Sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Mohamed Tawfic Ahmed*, Sara S Greish, Hamdi El Sharabasy

Suez Canal University, Ismailia, Egypt

One of the main features of the last few decades in the 20th century was the strong rivalry between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union on one side and the USA on the other side, where space was one of the hot areas for coemption.

The daring mission of the Soviet Union of the spaceship carrying Yuri Gagarin the first astronaut to step into the cosmic vastness took the whole world with a stunning surprise, including the USA the major other player in the space invasion venture. It was not before too long when the US embarking on the Apollo program that culminated by sending some American astronauts, landing on the moon, taking the whole world with a huge surprise. However, one of the most meaningful outcomes of these mission was that emotional sceneries of mother earth as a lonely tiny figure, floating in such formidably large space, an emotionally moving scene, that ignited a strong feeling of sympathy and longing to this solitary body, our mother earth, which we all have and live in.

The publication of the memorable book of Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring in early 1960’s was a milestone that inspired even a stronger feeling towards mother earth. The alarming decline of many birds intoxicated by residues of the DDT was another sign of colossal damage Man has inflicted on his environment. The book and the raw it created were another cause of worries and concern about Man’s wrongdoing, promoting the urgent need to a firm of strict measures bundles that should be enforced to maintain the safeguard global environmental integrity.  


*Corresponding author:,

Against the fury caused by such grossly impactful practices, and with growing interest at global level about environmental safety, several environmental management system tools have been formulated   and enforced in the environmental repertoire of many countries around the world.  These systems, that were looked at as the salvage spirit of the global conscious, and the hope to restore the fading beauty and charm of mother nature. 

The Emergence of Environment Management Systems

The concept of LCA has emerged in the early 1960 as a reaction to the worries sparked by a decline natural resources abundance. 

The package industry took the first lead in promoting LCA, with Coca Cola taking the lead when undertaking a detailed study to compare different beverage containers to determine the lowest release to the environment. Another consideration was the supply of natural resources.

The oil crisis in late 1960’s and concerns about population growth led to environmental movements in many countries. The study The Limits of Growth summarized that sentiment in 1972 paving the way to the modality of LCA commonly used all over the world these days.

The Global Standardization of LCA

To put the process of LCA straight, the International Standards Organization ISO published the standard ISO 14000, that embrace ISO 14040, that laid the bases for the correct process of life cycle assessment. However, ISO14040 has undergone several updates, nevertheless, it is the standard of life cycle currently used at global level. Alia et al., 2022, reported that LCA has passed through different stages of development and adoption (Figure 1). These stages include the a) early years 1960 1970, b) conception period, c) standardization period 1990 – 2000, d)- elaboration period, 2000 – 2010, e) concept broadening period, 2010 till now.  The major transition events in LCA history are summarized chronologically in Figure 1.

There is no doubt that Coca Cola endeavor has brought about the early version of LCA that undergone a series of development and changes. Nevertheless, Coca Cola should be always remembered as the entity that brought the foundation brand of sound footprinting.

Figure 2– EF and BO values during 1966–2016. The graphs show that the human demand on nature (EF) has exceeded the regenerative and absorptive capacities of natural capital (BO), showing that the ecological deficit expands rapidly. Six of these countries—Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia—had extremely large EF values and exhibited drastic ecological degradation. (Sustainability 2022, 14(18), 11708)

Environmental Quality in MENA Countries, Major Trends

Caring for environmental stewardship and integrity have not been one of the priority interests in MENA region for sometimes. Despite progress on some fronts, MENA region still lags behind many other world regions in its overall environmental outlook according to the 2016 report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (Saab and Sadik, 2016).

The extensive use of natural resources has been one of the main reasons for such ailing environmental conditions. The severe effect of climate change in MENA region has also had its tool, impacting the area to a large extent in comparison to other parts of the world.


The Use of LCA in the MENA Region

The use of LCA as one of the environmental management systems in MENA region has been rather limited compared with other systems such as environmental impact assessment, environmental auditing and others.  Early publications of LCA in MENA region have focused on wastewater recycling and use since water scarcity is one of most prevailing issues in the region (Tawfic Ahmed, 2007, 2010)

One of the main reasons for such slow start was the huge volume of information that LCA would require, and the difficulty of obtaining this information, let alone their unavailability or inaccessibility.

However, the early beginning of the 21st ushered a growing application of LCA in a variety of topics including agriculture, construction, and many others, Mostafa Abdelkader et al., 22, Morsi et al 2020, Yacout, 2019.

LCA and Sustainable Development Goals SDG

United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.


Bearing in mind that the SDGs are a reference for the international sustainability agenda (communication), LCSA is a framework that considers all dimensions of sustainability in a life cycle thinking-based approach.

Despite general relevance and demands of combining assessment and goals, there is a gap of (consensus of) combinations of LCSA indicators and SDGs. A comprehensive best-practice example of LCSA-SDG combination is not yet available, and challenges are becoming evident, but a clear direction can be seen and is already provided for some SDGs (e.g. SDG 13), including a recommendation.

Advantages of LCA

The use of LCA can provide great help promoting SDG, that would include:

-Bridge the gap between complex environmental data and the information business would need for making the right decision

-Spot problems early and manage the risks

-Design the products with the planet limit in mind

-Design for the circular economy

-Build relations with stakeholder

-Know where to keep improving


LCA also shows the ‘trade-offs’ practitioners may face when making necessary changes. This would mean not to allow shifting the impact to another part of an organization or value chain. In addition, LCA would also help understanding the ‘hotspots’ in any product’s life cycle and where improvement could be performed. Hotspots are the activities that contribute the greatest environmental impacts.


The Role of UNEP, LCA initiative

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has been one of the most prominent bodies to foster life cycle analysis in the MENA, as part of its mandate to promote sustainability in the area.

The Life Cycle Initiative, hosted by UN Environment, is a highly recognized public-private partnership. It serves as a global platform for collaboration and knowledge exchange among users and experts of life cycle approaches. The initiative consolidates best practices and facilitates consensus-building processes, driven by a steadfast commitment to sustainability as a public good. Through active engagement with governments, businesses, scientific institutions, and civil society organizations, the initiative strives to foster a harmonious and resilient future by providing authoritative guidance on sound tools and approaches.

Celebrating the 20 years Anniversary of its Lifecycle Initiative,” Africa is Speaking Life Cycle Assessment” UNEP has organized a webinar focuses on the role of LCA in fostering informed decision-making and promoting sustainability, and the aspiration to shape a future that harmonizes with our environmental aspirations.  The webinar aimed to gather influential thought leaders and decision-makers to engage in a thoughtful discourse on the integration of lifecycle thinking into national strategies. By fostering informed decision-making and promoting sustainability, we aspire to shape a future that harmonizes with our environmental aspirations. Moreover, the webinar has shed light on the pivotal role of Environmental Product Declarations in driving environmental transparency and guiding policy development for greener economies.

Closing Remarks

Life cycle analysis is one of the most potential tools to depict the entire life cycle impacts of a product or service. With the growing interest to align with good environmental code of practices, MENA countries are currently committed to adapt sound environmental code in their endeavor. The UNEP Life Cycle Initiative is actively involved in introducing LCA in this region as a solid milestone for good environmental practices, allowing it to occupy its merited posture in MENA repertoire of environmental stewardship.

 The Suez Canal University, one of the most environmentally committed institute to environmental integrity has become one of the early Egyptian universities to be an active incubation home for the development, application, and dissemination of the LCA state of the art. The mutual influx of information standing between the Suez Canal University and other LCA powerhouse, including UNEP would remain as one of the most synergistic relationship, reflected in wider dissemination and improving the state of the art.


We would like to thank the wonderful team of UNEP, namely Llorenc Mila I Canals, and Archana Datta, for their wonderful support and inspiration throughout.  Their support, enthusiasm, and guidance are most acknowledged.

References Cited

Aliaa A. Mahmoud et al., IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science 992

(2022) 012002

-Ecological footprint and its determinante in MENA countries: A spatola econometria approach, Sustainability 2022, 14(18), 11708;

-Saab, N., and Sadik, A.K. (2016) Sustainable development in changing Arab climate. Available at


-Mohamed Tawfic Ahmed (2010) Life Cycle Analysis in the Water Industry, In: Wastewater Treatment and Reuse in the Mediterranean Region, (Eds) Damia Barcelo, and Mira Petkovic, Springer Publisher,

Mohamed Tawfic Ahmed (2007) Life cycle assessment, A Decision – Making Tool in Wastewater Treatment Facilities, In: Wastewater Reuse- Risk Assessment, Decision Making and Environmental Security, (Ed.) M Zaidi, Springer Publisher, 2007.

-Abdelkader, M et al., Agronomy 2022, 12(7), 1527

-M.A. Morsi et al 2020 IOP Conf. Ser.: Mater. Sci. Eng. 974 012028

Dalia Abdelfattah Yacout, Assessing status of life cycle assessment studies in Egypt, May 2019, British Journal of Applied Science & Technology 19(2):177-189




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