The Global LCA Data Access (GLAD) Network, which is led by the Life Cycle Initiative, is the largest directory of life cycle assessment (LCA) datasets. It aims to increase accessibility and interoperability of LCA data to promote the use of LCA in decision-making, guiding both governments and businesses to strive towards sustainability. 

Metadata descriptors are defined and used in GLAD’s interface. Metadata should enable data to be searchable and reusable. As defined by the FAIR Principles for Data, data is searchable when it is described with rich metadata that is registered or indexed in a searchable resource, and thus can be easily discovered (by humans and/or computers). Data is reusable when it is richly described with a plurality of accurate and relevant attributes to determine its usage, and thus can be replicated and/or combined in different settings. Through the years, the need to reassess metadata descriptors increased as more experience was gained about how nodes connect to GLAD and how users use GLAD.

Having this in mind, the Metadata Working Group, led by two members of the Technical Management Group of GLAD, Peter Arbuckle and Carolina Scarinci, organized different activities to gather insights about metadata from different users during 2021. Peter led a series of interviews to the data providers (nodes) while Carolina invited end-users to participate in focus group in October and December.

A total of 22 people participated, representing public, private, and academic organizations from 16 different countries. The majority of the participants were from universities or research centers, followed by consultants doing LCA; 40% of the participants have more than 10 years of experience as LCA practitioners. During a one-and-a-half-hour session, participants were led through a series of tasks that aimed to understand what they expect from GLAD, how they look for data and how they decide if that data is useful for their intended application.

Participants recognized that the main values of GLAD can be summarized in: centralization (the possibility of finding data in a single place), interoperability (data downloadable in different formats) and transparency (metadata freely accessible to decide about the use of datasets). The discussions provided valuable information about the most required features of GLAD, some of which already exist and some might be included in future developments of the platform. Participants noted the following relevant features: ease of search, format conversion, data download in a single place, and integration of GLAD into LCA softwares.

A hypothetical search case was also conducted in the focus group. Numerous suggestions were provided with respect to visualization of results and the search function. The faceted search, which has been recently implemented on the site, was discussed and specific proposals were made to improve some of the searching fields, such as “geographical coverage” and “categories”. It was noted that the main fields used for searching purposes are: location, modelling approach, and data for free/for purchase. With regards to fitness for purpose, participants agreed that all proposed metadata is necessary, mainly: description, technology, and allocation approach. However, they stated that it is something that is ultimately decided when looking at the complete set of information provided by the node at their website.

The GLAD team expresses their heartfelt thanks to all the participants who took their time to participate in the focus groups. Results of the focus groups are being used to identify key areas for improvement on GLAD, to promote its further use and encourage the application of LCA in decision-making towards sustainability.