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Climate impact assessment in life cycle assessments of forest products: Implications of method choice for results and decision-making
RISE - Research Institutes of Sweden, Built Environment. Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.
RISE - Research Institutes of Sweden, Built Environment. KTH, Stockholm, Sweden.
RISE - Research Institutes of Sweden, Bioeconomy, Biorefinery and Energy.
RISE - Research Institutes of Sweden, Built Environment.
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2016 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 116, 90-99 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

As life cycle assessments are often conducted to provide decision support, it is important that impact assessment methodology is consistent with the intended decision context. The currently most used climate impact assessment metric, the global warming potential, and how it is applied in life cycle assessments, has for example been criticised for insufficiently accounting for carbon sequestration, carbon stored in long-lived products and timing of emission. The aim of this study is to evaluate how practitioners assess the climate impact of forest products and the implications of method choice for results and decision-making.

To identify current common practices, we reviewed climate impact assessment practices in 101 life cycle assessments of forest products. We then applied identified common practices in case studies comparing the climate impact of a forest-based and a non-forest-based fuel and building, respectively, and compared the outcomes with outcomes of applying alternative, non-established practices.

Results indicate that current common practices exclude most of the dynamic features of carbon uptake and storage as well as the climate impact from indirect land use change, aerosols and changed albedo. The case studies demonstrate that the inclusion of such aspects could influence results considerably, both positively and negatively. Ignoring aspects could thus have important implications for the decision support. The product life cycle stages with greatest climate impact reduction potential might not be identified, product comparisons might favour the less preferable product and policy instruments might support the development and use of inefficient climate impact reduction strategies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2016. Vol. 116, 90-99 p.
Keyword [en]
Environment, Life cycle assessment, LCA, Environmental assessment, Carbon footprint, Wood, Forest, Carbon model, Forest model, Global warming, Climate change, Carbon, Fuel, Biofuel, Construction, Building, GWP, GWPbio, Climate impact assessment, Decision making, Carbon storage, sequestration, albedo, land use change, LUC, indirect land use change, ILUC, System boundaries, Spatial, Temporal, Time horizon, End of life, Soil disturbance, Aerosol, Concrete, Timber, Dynamic LCA, Literature review
National Category
Engineering and Technology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-29994DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.01.009OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ri-29994DiVA: diva2:1115540
Available from: 2017-06-27 Created: 2017-06-27 Last updated: 2017-08-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Life cycle assessment in the development of forest products: Contributions to improved methods and practices
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life cycle assessment in the development of forest products: Contributions to improved methods and practices
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The prospect of reducing environmental impacts is a key driver for the research and development (R&D) of new forest products. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is often used for assessing the environmental impact of such products, e.g. for the purpose of guiding R&D. The aim of this thesis is to improve the methods and practices of LCA work carried out in the R&D of forest products. Six research questions were formulated from research needs identified in LCA work in five technical inter-organisational R&D projects. These projects also provided contexts for the case studies that were used to address the research questions. The main contributions of the research are as follows:

Regarding the planning of LCA work in inter-organisational R&D projects, the research identified four characteristics that appear to be important to consider when selecting the roles of LCAs in such projects: (i) the project’s potential influence on environmental impacts, (ii) the degrees of freedom available for the technical direction of the project, (iii) the project’s potential to provide required input to the LCA, and (iv) access to relevant audiences for the LCA results.

Regarding the modelling of future forest product systems, it was found that (i) it is important to capture uncertainties related to the technologies of end-of-life processes, the location of processes and the occurrence of land use change; and (ii) the choice of method for handling multi-functionality can strongly influence results in LCAs of forest products, particularly in consequential studies and in studies of relatively small co-product flows.

Regarding the assessment of environmental impacts of particular relevance for forest products, it was found that using established climate impact assessment practices can cause LCA practitioners to miss environmental hot-spots and make erroneous conclusions about the performance of forest products vis-à-vis non-forest alternatives, particularly in studies aimed at short-term impact mitigation. Also, a new approach for inventorying water cycle alterations was developed, which made it possible to capture catchment-scale effects of forestry never captured before.

To connect the LCA results to global challenges, a procedure was proposed for translating the planetary boundaries into absolute product-scale targets for impact reduction, e.g. to be used for evaluating interventions for product improvements or for managing trade-offs between impact categories.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Gothenburg: Chalmers University of Technology, 2015. 91 p.
Series
Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola, ISSN 0346-718X ; 3844
Keyword
R&D, LCA, Life cycle assessment, wood, forest product, forestry, impact assessment, scenario modelling, end-of-life modelling, allocation, multi-functional, planetary boundaries, life cycle inventory, life cycle impact assessment, environmental assessment
National Category
Engineering and Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-30234 (URN)978-91-7597-163-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-04-29, KB-salen, Kemigården 4, Gothenburg, 10:25 (English)
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Supervisors
Available from: 2017-08-08 Created: 2017-08-08 Last updated: 2017-08-08Bibliographically approved

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