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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    • "This indicator measures the difference in the free NPP left for ecosystems between the current land vegetation, i.e. after human intervention where NPP loss due to harvested biomass and change of land functions is taken into account, and a reference natural situation. The latter has been described as the NPP of the potential natural vegetation (PNV) which represents the natural state of vegetation without human intervention (Haberl et al., 2007;Zhang et al., 2010). However, at that point, despite the strong theoretical background, the HANPP indicator as developed byHaberl et al. (2007)was not directly applicable in LCA as there were no (sitespecific ) CFs calculated (Matilla et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Terrestrial land and its resources are finite, though, for economic and socio-cultural needs of humans, these natural resources are further exploited. It highlights the need to quantify the impact humans possibly have on the environment due to occupation and transformation of land. As a starting point of this paper (1st objective), the land use activities, which may be mainly socio-culturally or economically oriented, are identified in addition to the natural land-based processes and stocks and funds that can be altered due to land use. To quantify the possible impact anthropogenic land use can have on the natural environment, linked to a certain product or service, life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool commonly used. During the last decades, many indicators are developed within the LCA framework in an attempt to evaluate certain environmental impacts of land use. A second objective of this study is to briefly review these indicators and to categorize them according to whether they assess a change in the asset of natural resources for production and consumption or a disturbance of certain ecosystem processes, i.e. ecosystem health. Based on these findings, two enhanced proxy indicators are proposed (3rd objective). Both indicators use net primary production (NPP) loss (potential NPP in the absence of humans minus remaining NPP after land use) as a relevant proxy to primarily assess the impact of land use on ecosystem health. As there are two approaches to account for the natural and productive value of the NPP remaining after land use, namely the Human Appropriation of NPP (HANPP) and hemeroby (or naturalness) concepts, two indicators are introduced and the advantages and limitations compared to state-of-the-art NPP-based land use indicators are discussed. Exergy-based spatially differentiated characterization factors (CFs) are calculated for several types of land use (e.g., pasture land, urban land).
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2016 · Science of The Total Environment
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    • "Most of studies are limited to only one or a few ecosystem services. However, little effort has been devoted to frameworks to assess impacts on a wider range of ecosystem services, due to methodological [3] and/or data/ knowledge gaps. Due to growing concerns about the influence of emissions from fossil fuel use on climate change and concerns about the national energy security, spurred by the decline in North Sea oil and gas production and aging nuclear and coal fired power stations, wind energy has been recognised as an important energy source in the UK [10] [11] and has grown rapidly recently. "
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    ABSTRACT: Energy technologies have both local and global impacts on ecosystem services, with local impacts occurring where the energy is generated, and global impacts occurring where energy feedstock or raw materials for energy infrastructure are sourced. Assessing these impacts in both local and remote locations is important but challenging. In this paper we present a first attempt to quantify the impacts of onshore wind farms on ecosystem services for the UK at local and global scales, building on approaches used for life cycle analyses of energy technologies, that consider the provenance of materials used for energy infrastructure. We first identify the lifecycle processes of onshore wind farms, and then use a systematic literature review of local impacts of onshore wind farms on ecosystem services and a 'Broadbrush' approach for global impacts. Results show that onshore wind farms tend to have significant positive local impacts on primary production and air quality, and tend to have negative local impacts on soil, water and livestock which are mostly associated with the operational and decommissioning stages of wind turbines in the UK. At global scale, onshore wind farms tend to have negative impacts on a number of ecosystem services, due to the processes associated with the mining of steel and concrete in other parts of the world, but this is common to all energy infrastructures. These should help wind farm developers and researchers identify and avoid adverse impacts of onshore wind farms on ecosystem services.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
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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.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Ecological Engineering
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