Concept: Life cycle assessment
Urban forests reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing and sequestering considerable amounts of carbon. However, few studies have considered the local scale of urban forests to effectively evaluate their potential long-term carbon offset. The lack of precise, consistent and up-to-date forest details is challenging for long-term prognoses. Therefore, this review aims to identify uncertainties in urban forest carbon offset assessment and discuss the extent to which such uncertainties can be reduced by recent progress in high resolution remote sensing. We do this by performing an extensive literature review and a case study combining remote sensing and life cycle assessment of urban forest carbon offset in Berlin, Germany.
An integrated approach is required to optimise fish farming systems by maximising output while minimising their negative environmental impacts. We developed a holistic approach to assess the environmental performances by combining two methods based on energetic and physical flow analysis. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a normalised method that estimates resource use and potential impacts throughout a product’s life cycle. Emergy Accounting (EA) refers the amount of energy directly or indirectly required by a product or a service. The combination of these two methods was used to evaluate the environmental impacts of three contrasting fish-farming systems: a farm producing salmon in a recirculating system (RSF), a semi-extensive polyculture pond (PF1) and an extensive polyculture pond (PF2). The RSF system, with a low feed-conversion ratio (FCR = 0.95), had lower environmental impacts per tonne of live fish produced than did the two pond farms, when the effects on climate change, acidification, total cumulative energy demand, land competition and water dependence were considered. However, RSF was clearly disconnected from the surrounding environment and depended highly on external resources (e.g. nutrients, energy). Ponds adequately incorporated renewable natural resources but had higher environmental impacts due to incomplete use of external inputs. This study highlighted key factors necessary for the successful ecological intensification of fish farming, i.e., minimise external inputs, lower the FCR, and increase the use of renewable resources from the surrounding environment. The combination of LCA and EA seems to be a practical approach to address the complexity of optimising biophysical efficiency in aquaculture systems.
Many methods have been reported and used to include recycling in life cycle assessments (LCAs). This paper evaluates six widely used methods: three substitution methods (i.e. substitution based on equal quality, a correction factor, and alternative material), allocation based on the number of recycling loops, the recycled-content method, and the equal-share method. These six methods were first compared, with an assumed hypothetical 100% recycling rate, for an aluminium can and a disposable polystyrene (PS) cup. The substitution and recycled-content method were next applied with actual rates for recycling, incineration and landfilling for both product systems in selected countries. The six methods differ in their approaches to credit recycling. The three substitution methods stimulate the recyclability of the product and assign credits for the obtained recycled material. The choice to either apply a correction factor, or to account for alternative substituted material has a considerable influence on the LCA results, and is debatable. Nevertheless, we prefer incorporating quality reduction of the recycled material by either a correction factor or an alternative substituted material over simply ignoring quality loss. The allocation-on-number-of-recycling-loops method focusses on the life expectancy of material itself, rather than on a specific separate product. The recycled-content method stimulates the use of recycled material, i.e. credits the use of recycled material in products and ignores the recyclability of the products. The equal-share method is a compromise between the substitution methods and the recycled-content method. The results for the aluminium can follow the underlying philosophies of the methods. The results for the PS cup are additionally influenced by the correction factor or credits for the alternative material accounting for the drop in PS quality, the waste treatment management (recycling rate, incineration rate, landfilling rate), and the source of avoided electricity in case of waste incineration. The results for the PS cup, which are less dominated by production of virgin material than aluminium can, furthermore depend on the environmental impact categories. This stresses the importance to consider other impact categories besides the most commonly used global warming impact. The multitude of available methods complicates the choice of an appropriate method for the LCA practitioner. New guidelines keep appearing and industries also suggest their own preferred method. Unambiguous ISO guidelines, particularly related to sensitivity analysis, would be a great step forward in making more robust LCAs.
Risk assessment (RA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) are two analytical tools used to support decision making in environmental management. This study reviewed 30 environmental assessment case studies that claimed an integration, combination, hybridization, or complementary use of RA and LCA. The focus of the analysis was on how the respective case studies evaluated emissions of chemical pollutants and pathogens. The analysis revealed three clusters of similar case studies. Yet, there seemed to be little consensus as to what should be referred to as RA and LCA, and when to speak of combination, integration, hybridization, or complementary use of RA and LCA. This paper provides clear recommendations toward a more stringent and consistent use of terminology. Blending elements of RA and LCA offers multifaceted opportunities to adapt a given environmental assessment case study to a specific decision making context, but also requires awareness of several implications and potential pitfalls, of which six are discussed in this paper. To facilitate a better understanding and more transparent communication of the nature of a given case study, this paper proposes a “design space” (i.e., identification framework) for environmental assessment case studies blending elements of RA and LCA. Thinking in terms of a common design space, we postulate, can increase clarity and transparency when communicating the design and results of a given assessment together with its potential strengths and weaknesses.
Galicia is an Autonomous Community located in the north-west of Spain. As a starting point to implement mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change, a regional greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory is needed. So far, the only regional GHG inventories available are limited to the territorial emissions of those production activities which are expected to cause major environmental degradation. An alternative approach has been followed here to quantify all the on-site (direct) and embodied (indirect) GHG emissions related to all Galician production and consumption activities. The carbon footprint (CF) was calculated following the territorial life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology for data collection, that combines bottom-up and top-down approaches. The most up-to-date statistical data and life cycle inventories available were used to compute all GHG emissions. This case study represents a leap of scale when compared to existing studies, thus addressing the issue of double counting, which arises when considering all the production activities of a large region. The CF of the consumption activities in Galicia is 17.8 ktCO2e/year, with 88% allocated to Galician inhabitants and 12% to tourist consumption. The proposed methodology also identifies the main important contributors to GHG emissions and shows where regional reduction efforts should be made. The major contributor to the CF of inhabitants is housing (32%), followed by food consumption (29%). Within the CF of tourist consumption, the share of transport is highest (59%), followed by housing (26%). The CF of Galician production reaches 34.9 MtCO2e/y, and its major contributor is electricity production (21%), followed by food manufacturing (19%). Our results have been compared to those reported for other regions, actions aimed at reducing GHG emissions have been proposed, and data gaps and limitations identified.
The construction and use of buildings represent about half of the extracted materials and energy consumption, and around one third of the water consumption and waste produced in the European Union. Therefore it is becoming more important to use sustainable materials that reduce the environmental impacts of construction, by conserving and using resources more efficiently. Green walls can be used as a sustainable strategy to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. The aim of this study is to evaluate the environmental impact of a new modular system for green roofs and green walls (Geogreen) which uses waste and sustainable materials in its composition. A life cycle analysis (LCA) is used to evaluate the long term environmental benefits of this system. The life cycle analysis (LCA) is carried according to ISO 14040/44 using GaBi software and CML 2001 impact category indicators. The adopted functional unit is the square meter of each material required to assemble the Geogreen system. This study also compares the environmental performance of the Geogreen system with other living wall systems and other cladding materials using data from the literature. This LCA study of the Geogreen system became relevant to identify a curing process with a major impact on GWP due to the energy consumed in this process. A change on this process allowed reducing 74% of the overall GWP. After this change it can be noticed that the Geogreen System presents one of the lowest environmental burden when compared to other construction systems.
Cultured, or in vitro, meat consists of edible biomass grown from animal stem cells in a factory, or carnery. In the coming decades, in vitro biomass cultivation could enable the production of meat without the need to raise livestock. Using an anticipatory life cycle analysis framework, the study described herein examines the environmental implications of this emerging technology and compares the results with published impacts of beef, pork, poultry, and another speculative analysis of cultured biomass. While uncertainty ranges are large, the findings suggest that in vitro biomass cultivation could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock; however, those benefits could come at the expense of more intensive energy use as biological functions such as digestion and nutrient circulation are replaced by industrial equivalents. From this perspective, large-scale cultivation of in vitro meat and other bioengineered products could represent a new phase of industrialization with inherently complex and challenging trade-offs.
The disposal of food waste is a large environmental problem. In the United Kingdom (UK), approximately 15 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, mostly disposed of in landfill, via composting, or anaerobic digestion (AD). European Union (EU) guidelines state that food waste should preferentially be used as animal feed though for most food waste this practice is currently illegal, because of disease control concerns. Interest in the potential diversion of food waste for animal feed is however growing, with a number of East Asian states offering working examples of safe food waste recycling - based on tight regulation and rendering food waste safe through heat treatment. This study investigates the potential benefits of diverting food waste for pig feed in the UK. A hybrid, consequential life cycle assessment (LCA) was conducted to compare the environmental and health impacts of four technologies for food waste processing: two technologies of South Korean style-animal feed production (as a wet pig feed and a dry pig feed) were compared with two widespread UK disposal technologies: AD and composting. Results of 14 mid-point impact categories show that the processing of food waste as a wet pig feed and a dry pig feed have the best and second-best scores, respectively, for 13/14 and 12/14 environmental and health impacts. The low impact of food waste feed stems in large part from its substitution of conventional feed, the production of which has substantial environmental and health impacts. While the re-legalisation of the use of food waste as pig feed could offer environmental and public health benefits, this will require support from policy makers, the public, and the pig industry, as well as investment in separated food waste collection which currently occurs in only a minority of regions.
This study evaluates life cycle environmental impacts associated with chocolate products made and consumed in the UK. The paper focuses on three representative chocolate products occupying 90% of the market: ‘moulded chocolate’, ‘chocolate countlines’ and ‘chocolates in bag’. The impacts were estimated using life cycle assessment (LCA) as a tool and following the ReCiPe impact assessment method. The water footprint was also considered. For example, the global warming potential ranges between 2.91 and 4.15 kg CO2eq., primary energy demand from 30 to 41 MJ and the water footprint, including water stress, from 31 to 63 l per kilogram of chocolate. The raw materials are the major hotspot across all impact categories for all three product types, followed by the chocolate production process and packaging. The raw material impacts are mainly due to milk powder, cocoa derivatives, sugar and palm oil. The sensitivity analysis shows that the results for global warming potential are sensitive to land-use change (LUC) associated with cocoa production, increasing the impact of the chocolate products by three to four times if LUC is involved. The improvement opportunities targeting the key contributing stages suggest that GWP of chocolates could be reduced by 14%-19%. Chocolate countlines have the highest contribution to the total impacts at the UK level (37%-43%), followed by chocolates in bag (28%-33%). Moulded chocolates and other chocolate confectionary make up the rest of the impacts, with a roughly equal share each. Chocolate consumption in the UK contributes 4.7% to the primary energy consumption and 2.4% to the GHG emissions from the whole food and drink sector. The results of this work will be of interest to policy makers, chocolate producers and consumers, helping them to make more informed decisions towards sustainable production and consumption of chocolate products.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of livestock production systems is often based on inventory data for farms typical of a study region. As information on individual animals is often unavailable, livestock data may already be aggregated at the time of inventory analysis, both across individual animals and across seasons. Even though various computational tools exist to consider the effect of genetic and seasonal variabilities in livestock-originated emissions intensity, the degree to which these methods can address the bias suffered by representative animal approaches is not well-understood. Using detailed on-farm data collected on the North Wyke Farm Platform (NWFP) in Devon, UK, this paper proposes a novel approach of life cycle impact assessment that complements the existing LCA methodology. Field data, such as forage quality and animal performance, were measured at high spatial and temporal resolutions and directly transferred into LCA processes. This approach has enabled derivation of emissions intensity for each individual animal and, by extension, its intra-farm distribution, providing a step towards reducing uncertainty related to agricultural production inherent in LCA studies for food. Depending on pasture management strategies, the total emissions intensity estimated by the proposed method was higher than the equivalent value recalculated using a representative animal approach by 0.9-1.7 kg CO2-eq/kg liveweight gain, or up to 10% of system-wide emissions. This finding suggests that emissions intensity values derived by the latter technique may be underestimated due to insufficient consideration given to poorly performing animals, whose emissions becomes exponentially greater as average daily gain decreases. Strategies to mitigate life-cycle environmental impacts of pasture-based beef productions systems are also discussed.