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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    • "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; 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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    • "Recently, some research has been initiated by emergy and LCA practitioners in the direction of integrating and combining emergy synthesis with LCA to meet the challenges of sustainability (e.g., [45], [46], [63]–[65]. For example, Raugei et al. [45] argued the added value of LCA by linking it with emergy synthesis. "
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    ABSTRACT: The construction and building process depends on substantial consumption of natural resources with far-reaching impacts beyond their development area. In general, a significant portion of annual resource consumption by the building and construction industry is a result of applying traditional building strategies and practices such as designing and selecting types of development (e.g. multi-unit condo and single-family house, etc.), building materials and structure, heating/cooling systems, and planning renovation and maintenance practices. On the other hand, apart from structural suitability, building developers mostly consider the basic requirements of public owners or private occupants of the buildings, where the main criteria for selecting building strategies are costs, and long-term environmental and socio-economic impacts are generally ignored. The main purpose of this paper is to develop an improved building sustainability assessment framework to measure and integrate different sustainability factors, i.e. long-term environmental upstream and downstream impacts and associated socio-economic costs, in a unified and quantitative basis. The application of the proposed framework has been explained through a case study of single-family houses and multi-unit residential buildings in Canada. A comprehensive framework based on the integration of emergy synthesis and life cycle assessment (LCA) has been developed and applied. The results of this research prove that the proposed emergy-based life cycle assessment (Em-LCA) framework offers a practical sustainability assessment tool by providing quantitative and transparent results for informed decision-making.
    10/2014; 3(2). DOI:10.1016/j.ijsbe.2014.09.001
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