Accounting for Ecosystem Services in Life Cycle Assessment, Part I: A Critical Review

William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.
Environmental Science and Technology (Impact Factor: 5.33). 02/2010; 44(7):2232-42. DOI: 10.1021/es9021156
Source: PubMed


If life cycle oriented methods are to encourage sustainable development, they must account for the role of ecosystem goods and services, since these form the basis of planetary activities and human well-being. This article reviews methods that are relevant to accounting for the role of nature and that could be integrated into life cycle oriented approaches. These include methods developed by ecologists for quantifying ecosystem services, by ecological economists for monetary valuation, and life cycle methods such as conventional life cycle assessment, thermodynamic methods for resource accounting such as exergy and emergy analysis, variations of the ecological footprint approach, and human appropriation of net primary productivity. Each approach has its strengths: economic methods are able to quantify the value of cultural services; LCA considers emissions and assesses their impact; emergy accounts for supporting services in terms of cumulative exergy; and ecological footprint is intuitively appealing and considers biocapacity. However, no method is able to consider all the ecosystem services, often due to the desire to aggregate all resources in terms of a single unit. This review shows that comprehensive accounting for ecosystem services in LCA requires greater integration among existing methods, hierarchical schemes for interpreting results via multiple levels of aggregation, and greater understanding of the role of ecosystems in supporting human activities. These present many research opportunities that must be addressed to meet the challenges of sustainability.

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    • "In this sense, an integrated assessment should also aim at analysing the ecosystem services provided by this system together with LCA in order to offer a multidisciplinary approach and detect further strengths (Lü et al., 2012; Zhang et al., 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Green and grey stormwater management infrastructures, such as the filter, swale and infiltration trench (FST), can be used to prevent flooding events. The aim of this paper was to determine the environmental and economic impacts of a pilot FST that was built in São Carlos (Brazil) using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC). As a result, the components with the greatest contributions to the total impacts of the FST were the infiltration trench and the grass cover. The system has a carbon footprint of 0.13 kg CO2 eq./m3 of infiltrated stormwater and an eco-efficiency ratio of 0.35 kg CO2 eq./USD. Moreover, the FST prevented up to 95% of the runoff in the area. Compared to a grey infrastructure, this system is a good solution with respect to PVC stormwater pipes, which require a long pipe length (1070 m) and have a shorter lifespan. In contrast, concrete pipes are a better solution, and their impacts are similar to those of the FST. Finally, a sensitivity analysis was conducted to assess the changes in the impacts with the varying lifespan of the system components. Thus, the proper management of the FST can reduce the economic and environmental impacts of the system by increasing its durability.
    Ecological Engineering 11/2015; 84:194-201. · 2.58 Impact Factor
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    • "Enclosed farmland is managed primarily for the provisioning of food but is important for many other ES which can be heavily impacted by changes in cropping pattern (Firbank et al., 2013) and management practices (Zhang et al., 2007; Power, 2010). Such effects depend on landscape context and are not well represented in traditional LCA – although LCA methodologies are being developed to account for important ecosystem factors such as soil quality and water flow/quality regulation (Cowell & Clift, 2000; Maes et al., 2009; Zhang et al., 2009, 2010; Saad et al., 2011; Oberholzer et al., 2012; Garrigues et al., 2013). The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (Mace et al., 2011) provided a framework for the classification and assessment of ES that may be applied alongside LCA in a qualitative manner to highlight major environmental effects not detected by traditional LCA methodology. "
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    ABSTRACT: Feed in tariffs (FiTs) and renewable heat incentives (RHIs) are driving a rapid expansion in anaerobic digestion (AD) coupled with combined heat and power (CHP) plants in the UK. Farm models were combined with consequential life cycle assessment (CLCA) to assess the net environmental balance of representative biogas, biofuel and biomass scenarios on a large arable farm, capturing crop rotation and digestate nutrient cycling effects. All bioenergy options led to avoided fossil resource depletion. Global warming potential (GWP) balances ranged from −1732 kg CO2e Mg−1 dry matter (DM) for pig slurry AD feedstock after accounting for avoided slurry storage to +2251 kg CO2e Mg−1 DM for oilseed rape biodiesel feedstock after attributing indirect land use change (iLUC) to displaced food production. Maize monoculture for AD led to net GWP increases via iLUC, but optimized integration of maize into an arable rotation resulted in negligible food crop displacement and iLUC. However, even under best-case assumptions such as full use of heat output from AD-CHP, crop–biogas achieved low GWP reductions per hectare compared with Miscanthus heating pellets under default estimates of iLUC. Ecosystem services (ES) assessment highlighted soil and water quality risks for maize cultivation. All bioenergy crop options led to net increases in eutrophication after displaced food production was accounted for. The environmental balance of AD is sensitive to design and management factors such as digestate storage and application techniques, which are not well regulated in the UK. Currently, FiT payments are not dependent on compliance with sustainability criteria. We conclude that CLCA and ES effects should be integrated into sustainability criteria for FiTs and RHIs, to direct public money towards resource-efficient renewable energy options that achieve genuine climate protection without degrading soil, air or water quality.
    GCB Bioenergy 02/2015; 7(6). DOI:10.1111/gcbb.12246 · 4.88 Impact Factor
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    • "Because all resources from the environment, whether non-renewable or renewable, biotic or abiotic, can be traced using emergy back to the original energy sources driving the planet, emergy can be used to estimate the provision of any material, energy, or even monetary resources used in an LCA regardless of the type. This has also been considered to be a way of accounting for ecosystem services used by product systems in LCA [Zhang et al. 2010a, b].  The work of the environment that would be needed to replace what is consumed. "

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