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Using the planetary boundaries framework for setting impact-reduction targets in LCA contexts
RISE, SP – Sveriges Tekniska Forskningsinstitut, SP Hållbar Samhällsbyggnad.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3536-7895
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.
2015 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, ISSN 0948-3349, E-ISSN 1614-7502, Vol. 20, no 12, p. 1684-1700Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose

The planetary boundaries (PBs) framework suggests global limits for environmental interventions which could be used to set global goals for reducing environmental impacts. This paper proposes a procedure for using such global goals for setting impact-reduction targets at the scale of products for use, for example, in life cycle assessment (LCA) contexts, e.g. as a basis for evaluating the potential of interventions to reduce the environmental impact of products.

Methods

The procedure consists of four steps: (i) identifying the PBs quantified in literature that correspond to an impact category which is studied in the product assessment context in question; (ii) interpreting what the identified PBs imply in terms of global impact-reduction targets; (iii) translating the outcome of (ii) to reduction targets for the particular global market segment to which the studied product belongs; and (iv) translating the outcome of (iii) to reduction targets for the studied product. The procedure requires some assumptions and value-based choices—the influence of these is tested by applying the procedure in a specific LCA context: a study of Swedish clothing consumption.

Results and discussion

The application of the procedure in an LCA context suggested the need for eliminating all or nearly all impact of Swedish clothing consumption for most impact categories. Thus, it is improbable that a single type of impact-reduction intervention (e.g. technological development or changed user behaviour) is sufficient. The outcome’s strong dependence on impact category suggests that the procedure can help in prioritising among impact categories. Furthermore, the outcome exhibited a strong dependence on the chosen method for allocating the globally allowed impact between regions—this was tested by applying different principles identified in a literature review on the allocation of emissions rights. The outcome also strongly depended on the geographical scope—this was tested by changing the geographical scope from Sweden to Nigeria.

Conclusions

The proposed procedure is feasible to use for LCA practitioners and other environmental analysts, and data is available to apply the procedure in contexts with different geographical scopes. Value-based choices are, however, unavoidable and significantly influence the outcome, which accentuates the subjectivity and potentially controversial nature of allocating a finite impact space to certain regions, market segments and products. How to match PBs with appropriate LCA impact categories is an important area for future research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 20, no 12, p. 1684-1700
Keywords [en]
Clothing, Apparel, Distance-to-target, Ecological threshold, Ethics, Life cycle assessment, Goal formulation, Safe operating space
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6922DOI: 10.1007/s11367-015-0984-6Local ID: 30866OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ri-6922DiVA, id: diva2:964764
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2019-07-09Bibliographically 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. p. 91
Series
Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola, ISSN 0346-718X ; 3844
Keywords
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)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-08-08 Created: 2017-08-08 Last updated: 2018-08-17Bibliographically approved

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