Global guidance for life cycle impact assessment indicators and methods: on track

One of the downsides of LCA is that LCA results are difficult to interpret for those sustainability practitioners who aren’t specialised in LCA, but do rely on it on the battlefield. That’s why the LCA community has been striving so hard to find consensus and decide on standardisation, aiming to make LCA more efficient and easier to interpret. An important initiative is the Flagship 1b project of the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, which aims to build global consensus and guidance. This article shows the exciting progress so far.

What Is The Buzz About?

The Flagship 1b project started at the beginning of this year when SETAC organized one of its trademark one-week Pellston Workshops in Valencia, Spain. The topic was “Global guidance for Life Cycle Impact Assessment Indicators (LCIA) and Methods”. The goal of the workshop was to reach a consensus on recommended environmental indicators for global warming, particulate matter emissions, water use impacts, impacts of land use on biodiversity, crosscutting issues, and LCA-based footprints. Using a harmonized approach for these indicators has important benefits for sustainability practitioners, not just those specialized in LCA. Not only will standardization make it more efficient to do an LCA, but it will also make it easier to interpret the results and communicate them.

The Pellston Workshop aims to provide a global guidance publication for a number of impact category indicators and their recommended characterization factors | Image credit: EeBGuide

Implications of the Pellston Workshop

Forty participants joined the discussions, a well-balanced multi-regional mixture of LCA experts, experts in specific topics or areas of protection, and users from industry, governments, and NGOs. The results of the workshop exceeded expectations: the progress was impressive! An extensive list of recommendations was agreed upon. These include topics like:

  • Recommended modelling approach (e.g. how to quantify the number of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) when expressing damage to human health)
  • Recommended metrics (e.g. Global Warming Potential for the short-term impacts of climate change, and Global Temperature Potential for the long-term climate change impacts)
  • Recommended units (e.g. for ecosystem quality it is the potentially disappeared fraction of species (PDF) or a unit that can translated to PDF)
  • Recommended scale (e.g. what spatial scale to use?)
  • Recommend reporting framework (e.g. how to report transparently?)

Furthermore, the workshop resulted in sets of recommended factors to express the environmental impact per intervention (e.g. numbers to quantify the global warming potential of emitting 1 kg of greenhouse gases). This way, the LCA practitioners can operationalize the application of the recommended indicators and start using this recommended harmonized approach.

Looking Towards Consistent LCA Results

The application of the harmonized approach will bring us one step closer to consistent LCA results. This will have the important benefits of improved efficiency and easier interpretation and communication. Reporting and monitoring in sustainability, too, will be so much easier and more consistent. I also have high hopes that consensus on the approach will also lead to more tailored research and development, and increasing the robustness of the LCA results.

The results from the workshop, including all recommendations, are now being finalized in a series of scientific publications. The official launch of the Valencia Guidance on LCIA is scheduled for the Eco-balance conference in October this year. In a second stage, the Flagship 1b project will also address other categories of impact (e.g. toxicity). The ultimate deliverable of the Flagship 1b project will be a global guidance publication with a supporting web system that includes the recommended LCA-based environmental impact indicators and the accompanying factors for various regions. At PRé, we will do our best to make the recommended methods available in SimaPro as soon as possible.

For more information on the activities of the Flagship 1b project, you can contact its co-chairs, Rolf Frischknecht and Olivier Jolliet. If you are interested in the technical explanation of this article, a more detailed overview can be found in our SimaPro blog.

If you want to have a better understanding of the implications of this and other projects towards LCA standardization, contact me or one of my colleagues. We can help answer your questions.

Laura Golsteijn

Senior Consultant

I am eager to increase the environmental awareness of our society, and I believe that everyone can contribute to a more sustainable world, every day. At PRé we provide companies with both the knowledge and the tools to improve their products and services. I am excited to work for an organisation that is involved in developing sustainable initiatives.

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