Interview | Ecoinvent’s global influence

Recently, SimaPro 8 was released, equipped with an updated ecoinvent v3 database. The ecoinvent v3 database offers the users amongst other the choice between different system models. An interview with ecoinvent's Chief Scientist Bo Weidema.
ecoinvent, LCA database, included in SimaPro 8

For Chief Scientist Bo Weidema, working on a database the size and scope of ecoinvent is thrilling. It’s the ability to really make a difference that matters most. “Ecoinvent is the most exciting and complete database that we have for Life Cycle Assessment,” said Weidema. “Being the database that practically everyone uses means it has an enormous influence on LCA. It’s exciting to work on, because when we make an improvement here, it improves LCAs all around the world.”

And users are now experiencing a whole lot of improvements, as ecoinvent’s version three debuted in May. As to who will benefit the most from this new version, which has significantly more data, as well as friendlier user interfaces? “I hope it would be the environment,” Weidema told us.

Crafting version three: Easier to use and much, much bigger

When Weidema and his team undertook the creation of ecoinvent’s third version, they knew it was a big job. “It was quite a challenge, to make the database more manageable while increasing its scope,” said Weidema. “We were already at 4,000 processes, and with globalization, we could foresee growing to ten-thousand, or even 100-thousand datasets,” he said.

So his team kept their focus on creating a system that would be able to grow with demand. “The ambition was to ensure that we could keep this database alive even when the demands for the data were growing. So we needed to make it more global, more complete, and more detailed, while at the same time meeting different user needs,” he explained. The team considered users who wanted to do consequential LCAs as well as those who preferred attributional system modeling.

More complete, higher quality

Weidema is pleased with the results, and he hopes users will be, too. “I hope that we get a lot more users, and that they will be happy!” he said of the new version.

And because of the changes, there’s a lot for users to be happy about. “By being able to now increase the size of the database, making it more global and complete, we can definitely say that with the new system models, users will get high quality results more consistently,” Weidema said. “The more detail we include, the more quality increases over time, and will continue to do so.”

EcoSpold2: Enabling a broader and more flexible ecoinvent

Early on in the work on ecoinvent v3, it became apparent that some changes would need to be made to the database’s framework. “There were so many new demands on the database, and in order to meet those demands, we realized that we would need a more flexible and broader format,” Weidema explained.

Because the ecoSpold format was developed twenty years ago, some of the technology was no longer up to date. Geographic information systems and unique IDs were advances that Weidema and his team needed to incorporate into the database’s new version. “Now that is was systematically possible to provide these features, we needed to fold them into the update, to help make the database more flexible,” Weidema explained.

Enter: ecoSpold2. “ecoSpold2 is the exchange format for data,” Weidema said. “We have to put the data into a fixed format in order for it to be readable by a machine or computer. EcoSpold2 was a prerequisite to do the more advanced modeling that we wanted to include in version three.”

The power of life cycle databases: Encouraging sustainability adoption

After working on ecoinvent for more than five years, Weidema is a great believer in the power of life cycle databases. “You can’t really have an LCA without high quality data,” he said. “In a way, we provide what individual practitioners would have to go and collect themselves. By having a database we can help each other together, so people don’t have to go out, looking for the same data, over and over again.”

Keeping all the data in one easy-to-access, affordable place can in turn encourage sustainability adoption. “LCA databases provide very important quantitative support for decision making, which you can’t really get from any other source,” Weidema said. “If we’re looking at something as simple as carbon footprinting and you’re only examining a few emissions, even then, having high quality data has been a problem.” He continues, “In order to really support decision making, I can’t see how we could live without a database like ecoinvent.”

More about ecoinvent v3

Learn more about the different system models present in ecoinvent v3:

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