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Session Title: Innovative Approaches to Assess Sustainability from a Life Cycle Perspective
Time: 4:45 – 5:15pm
Session Type: Discussion Session
Presenters: Rosan Harmens, Wafaa Baabou, Niklas Scholliers, Alicia Benitez
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The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 accompanying targets, with 230 indicators. Many leading companies have now recognised their responsibility to contribute to achieving their targets, and to report against them. Most companies have announced to focus on just a handful of the 17 targets, as their business has the best opportunity to contribute to these.
Project objectives, scope and expected impacts
The key problem with the SDGs is that they are developed for governments, so for instance the indicators for SDG 13 on climate refer to subsidies and programs, but no tangible indicators are defined on a company level. Our literature review shows that numerous global organisations and large consultancy firms have tried to create a better link to report against SDGs, and these efforts have indeed brought some progress. However, the efforts fall short of understanding how to create a link between SDGs and environmental and social LCA, which leaves LCA departments guessing how to report against the targets. Our initial round of stakeholder consultations confirms that top management often develop policies on how to contribute to a number of SDG’s, but they are not clear on how to measure this.
With support from the UNEP Life Cycle Initiative and a number of companies, a project has started to link the top-down SDGs to the LCA bottom-up approach. The objective is to develop a clear link between the top down process that led to the creation of the SDGs, and the bottom-up knowledge, data and methodology in the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment area. With this link specific decisions can be related to the SDGs. The project is focussing on two use cases: (1) how to link environmental and social LCA to each SDG in a quantitative mode, and (2) how to understand the position of the SDGs as midpoints in a fully quantitative cause effect relationship.
This presentation presents the initial results and challenges from the two approaches we have used to link LCA to around 10 selected SDG’s. The aim of presenting this is to (1) make LCA practitioners aware of the urgency to link their work to the Sustainable Development Goals, and (2) to get inputs from the audience in the question and answers, to further improve our work. Companies can also play an active role in this project.
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 23(3):700-709.
Weidema B P, Goedkoop M, Mieras E (2018). Making the SDGs relevant to business. PRé Sustainability & 2.-0
LCA consultants. http://lca-net.com/p/3107
Goedkoop, M.J. Indrane, D.; de Beer, I.M.; Product Social Impact Assessment Handbook – 2018, Amersfoort, September 1st, 2018.
Weidema B P (2018). The social footprint – A practical approach to comprehensive and consistent social LCA.
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The objective of the present work is to develop an absolute sustainability index for the life cycle impact assessment of mineral resources depletion and to apply it in the building sector.
Doubling from 1980, the amount of materials extracted and consumed worldwide reached nearly 72 Gt per year in 2010, of which around 45% is used for construction. The building sector consumes 16% of total iron and steel production.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an approach allowing assessing the environmental impacts of products or buildings throughout their entire life cycle, accounting for different impact categories among which mineral resources are considered poorly addressed in the current state of the art. One of the main issues with the impact assessment of resources depletion is to define clearly what is the appropriate area of protection (AoP): what do we really want to protect? Unlike for human health and ecosystem quality AoP for which life is protected, which has an intrinsic value, resources are considered as having an instrumental value, which is what has to be protected. This is quite a vague concept when time comes to quantify it. We consider that what has to be protected is the access to the services that the resource provides without exceeding a dissipation rate above which this access is compromised. The problem is how to define this dissipation threshold that allows maintaining mineral resources function fulfilling.
This idea of a threshold that allows protecting an AoP is, to some extent, similar to the LCA absolute approach recently adopted by some authors, in particular Bjørn4, in order to integrate the planetary boundaries concept in LCA as a way to move beyond assessing an anthropogenic system’s improvements in eco-efficiency and to assess its impacts in relation to the actual state of the environment.
Based on a functionality approach, what is the irreversible threshold for materials dissipation? Where the actual depletion rate is positioned vis-à-vis this threshold? These are our main research questions.
Our approach builds upon the model developed by De Bruille that allows determining the fraction of users not adapted once the readily available resource is totally dissipated. The MACSI (Material Competition Scarcity Index) is a midpoint characterization factor that expresses the fraction of initial users who are potentially unable to substitute their resource by another when the easily accessible reserves are depleted. We define the mineral resources irreversible depletion threshold as the dissipation rate that would allow to keep MACSI equal to 0. In other words, the planetary boundary defines the maximum dissipation rate a mineral resource can have in order to ensure that all users will be able to adapt before depletion.
Different options of entitlement approaches between the different users sharing the same resource are explored to obtain user specific thresholds. The approach is applied to different resources used in the building sector (Iron, Aluminum, limestone, etc). The obtained dissipation thresholds compared to the current dissipation rates in the building sector allow assessing the absolute sustainability of this sector.
The dissipation threshold for each of the mineral resources assessed as well as the building sector specific dissipation thresholds resulting from the chosen entitlement approaches will be presented. The absolute sustainability of the building sector will be discussed at the light of those results.
In this exploratory work, we propose an approach to determine a threshold for sustainable resources dissipation, which corresponds to the maximum dissipation of a material a society can withstand without experiencing a negative impact on human welfare.
- OECD (2015). Material Ressources, Productivity and Environment OCDE Green Growth Studies.
- Verones et al 2017, LCIA framework and cross-cutting issues guidance within the UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative. Journal of Cleaner Production 161:957–967
- Bjørn, A. and K. Richardson (2015). Better, but good enough? Indicators for absolute environmental sustainability in a life cycle perspective, DTU Management Engineering.
- De Bruille, V. (2014). Impact de l’utilisation des ressources minérales et métalliques dans un contexte cycle de vie: une approche fonctionnelle, École Polytechnique de Montréal.
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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies for complex products and technologies require a high number of data to model product systems which comprehend a multitude of processes. Thus, LCA practitioners draw on data from literature and data bases, as usually diverse restrictions limit the possible time and effort for gathering of primary data. Both literature data and data sets generally origin from former LCA studies and thus encompass systems boundaries, assumptions and methodological choices taken in the respective study. Often, and notably for ubiquitous infrastructures like power generation, many different LCA studies and data sets are found. Here, the question arises how to choose a data set in the course of a new LCA which fits best. This question is not straightforward and in practice often the selection is rather arbitrary. Given the high importance, however, which notably energy technologies have in many LCA, an arbitrary selection is dissatisfactory in terms of assurance of data quality.
In order to answer the research question, a methodology based on the life cycle assessment was developed to select the most suitable LCA data set for a plant. For this purpose, a reference object is to be defined, which is then compared with the plants from existing LCA results. The evaluation scheme is applicable for generic power generation technologies as well as for specific technologies.
The method is a semi-quantitative approach based on the pedigree matrix . Using the context-dependent criteria of technological fit, geographical fit, temporal fit, methodological topicality as well as the inherent characteristic of data quality, the accuracy of fit is examined. For this purpose, the criteria can take on integer values between 1 and 5. An equation based on the arithmetic mean is used to calculate the fitting accuracy.
The possibility of selecting the most suitable LCA data set for a power generation technology on the basis of a predefined scheme standardizes the procedure and makes the selection more objective. The method also accelerates the selection process, as the criteria used to define the accuracy of fit are already pre-selected. Furthermore, gaps in existing databases can be detected if only badly fitting data sets are found for an existing plant. In further research the method can be extended with adaptations to heat generation technologies and CHP plants.
-  Weidema, Bo P. and Wesnaes, Marianna Suhr (1996). “Data quality management for life cycle inventories-an example of using data quality indicators”. In: Journal of Cleaner Production 4.3-4, S. 167–174.
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The foresight of the future electricity demand implies to be prepared for a wide range of possibilities. To this end, energy systems models provide different scenarios for electricity mixes. However, energy system models base the analysis from a technical and economic perspective. Although there are initiatives that include environmental criteria, they mostly focus on carbon dioxide emissions. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) allows a quantitative analysis of the environmental performance of systems, providing indicators that address several environmental issues throughout the entire life cycle. This study assesses climate, non-climate and resource-related indicators, in the context of the planetary boundaries concept. This approach proposes quantitative boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and identifies the Earth systems processes that are already operating in a zone of uncertainty (Rockström et al., 2009). Therefore, the integration of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) into energy systems models promises a broader analysis by assessing sustainable pathways for the transformation of energy systems.
Stella is an electricity model for European countries based on Calliope (Jesse et al.,2020), that is a multi-scale energy system modelling framework, python-based, and an open-source. As the first step for the integration, a technology set is defined, according to the existing installed capacity in Germany for the reference year 2015. The LCA of the technology set is separated, in construction and operation phases, ensuring temporal distribution of the environmental indicators, (Volkart et al., 2018). Then, specific impact indicators per technology are calculated, and they are incorporated into Stella. The energy system model is quantified by studying scenarios that target monetary and emissions optimization. Finally, we determine the environmental performance of the energy system.
Preliminary results suggest that fossil fuel technologies, like lignite power plants, not only contribute to climate change but also have a considerable impact on toxic related categories and water eutrophication. Technologies using renewable sources, even though they reduce carbon dioxide emissions, perform in toxic-related categories similar to fossil fuel technologies. As well, they have worse performance in resource-related indicators.
Rockström, J., Steffen, W.L., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin III, F.S., Lambin, E., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J., 2009. Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and society.
Jesse, Bernhard-Johannes, Simon Morgenthaler, Bastian Gillessen, Simon Burges, and Wilhelm Kuckshinrichs. “Potential for Optimization in European Power Plant Fleet Operation.” Energies (2020) In press.
Volkart, K., Mutel, C.L., Panos, E., 2018. Integrating life cycle assessment and energy system modelling: Methodology and application to the world energy scenarios. Sustainable Production and Consumption.