Blog

Call for support to amend ISO 14044

March 15, 2017 by Bo Weidema

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that 2.-0 LCA consultants advocates a strict interpretation of the ISO 14040-series of standards for LCA to mean that a consequential modelling approach shall be used whenever the results are to be applied for decision support. Our advocacy for the consequential approach is based on its superior ability to reflect the physical and economic causality of changes in product systems.

The alternative modelling approach, which has come to be known as attributional, is nevertheless still in widespread use, even for product comparisons, supporting decisions that will shift demand between products, and to estimate the effect of increasing or decreasing system output. This points to a widespread lack of understanding of the limitations of attributional models. We have therefore spent quite some effort in explaining the difference between the two modelling approaches and their application areas.

These efforts include two recent scientific articles that contribute to solve the internal consistency problems in attributional modelling and clarify the importance of making the right choice of background data depending on the application area, based on an understanding of underlying reasons for the differences in results between the two modelling approaches.

Currently, ISO is investigating options for making amendments to overcome the largest problems in the current LCA standards. Through our national standardisation committee we have recently submitted a proposal to amend ISO 14044 on the topic of “Applications of LCA” aiming at clarifying how the requirements of the standard should be interpreted when applying each of the two approaches, both with respect to application areas, system boundaries, and co-product allocation. We urge all our readers to ask your national standardisation body to support that ISO initiates discussion on this proposed amendment.

Life-cycle under the desk?

February 23, 2017 by Bo Weidema

The employees of 2.-0 LCA consultants have access to a new piece of office equipment: An under-desk cycle. While we for many years have seen our colleagues standing at their height-adjustable tables, the new equipment allows for actively moving the legs, while seated at the table.

The investment in the new equipment is a spin-off of our recent study of how the 2015 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study can be related to product life cycles, as part of our detailing of the impact pathways contributing to the social footprint (the report is available to members of our social LCA club). Here you can for example read about ”Inadequate physical exercise”:

“The GBD study attributes 35 million DALY (1.5% of GBD) to “low physical activity”, divided on ischemic heart disease (48%), diabetes (26%), stroke (15%), colon cancer (6%), and breast cancer (4%). This corresponds to the burden of disease for activity levels below the WHO minimum recommendation of 600 metabolic equivalent-minutes (MET-minutes) per week. Kyu et al. (2016) provides relative changes in risk per MET-minute/week, which can be translated into a DALY value per MET-minute/hour. We can define a pressure indicator for every hour of activity deviating positively or negatively from the average MET-level.”

This sparked the question: How much time do we actually spend on sedentary work at 2.-0 LCA consultants? And what can we do about it? Since none of the employees wants to work less to have time to exercise more, the only alternative solution is to exercise while working. A little more research led us to the desk-cycle as the currently most interesting option (but probably not the last) to prolong the life-cycle of our employees while they make life-cycles of products for our clients.

Let us talk about Hybrid LCA

January 26, 2017 by Michele De Rosa

Last November the SETAC scientific committee accepted our session proposal for the upcoming SETAC Europe Annual Meeting to be held in Brussels in May 2017 titled ’Advancements in Hybrid Life Cycle Assessment methodologies and analyses’. This session represents a much needed opportunity for improving current LCA methodology.

LCA is today a well-established science-based comparative assessment tool. As part of its integrated product policy the European Commission has concluded that LCA is “the best framework for assessing the potential environmental impacts of products currently available” (EU-IPP 2017). But these roses to Life Cycle thinking are not without thorns.

In the last 25 years practitioners have been mainly been conducting process-based LCAs of products or services, relying on a bottom-up inventory data collection. This has proven to be both expensive and time-consuming, because data had to be collected for each process in the life cycle. Furthermore bottom-up inventories may provide a rather incomplete picture of the product systems if cut-offs are used – resulting in an incomplete system with predefined boundaries.

In 2003 the SETAC Europe – LCA Steering Committee created a thematic group working on merging the strengths of traditional process-based LCA with economic Input-Output (IO)databases and to bridge the gap between the IO and the LCA communities. Here at 2.-0 LCA consultants, we have been engaged and involved in the Hybrid approach since its infancy.

IO databases have the great advantage to cover the complete economy including economic transactions and environmental extensions for all industries in the economy. Thus, IO databases provide a high level of completeness (eliminating a need for cut-offs). The IO databases are then supplemented with the high level of detail from the usual process-based data.

SETAC and the broader LCA community have increasingly considered this methodology, but for various reasons the progress has been languid, as tradition, knowledge gaps and the initial lack of regional IO databases acted as barriers for a more widespread used of Hybrid LCA.

I believe that this is about to change and the upcoming Hybrid LCA session at SETAC Brussels and the great interest for it by LCA practitioners certifies this change. In the session, chaired by me and Jannick Schmidt, I am expecting to see many contributions on integrating process-based data into macroeconomic IO databases. We will see some very interesting real applications of the Hybrid LCA framework and will appreciate the potential of this technique when applied to case studies. The session also has a dedicated poster corner.

Hybrid LCA has much to offer to give us a more complete picture – thus giving us the freedom to edge in on those aspects of the production-related impacts that are currently not sufficiently addressed in LCA. In social LCA for example we might identify unexpected hotspots often excluded in LCA, such as socio-economic impacts on local economies and people related to commerce and business services.

I hope to see you in Brussels in May for this and many other scientific discussions https://brussels.setac.org/

References:

EU-IPP 2017. European Commission European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ipp/lca.htm (accessed 25/01/2017).

The benefits of certified palm oil – measured with LCA?

November 7, 2016 by Jannick H. Schmidt

This week, I am at the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Annual Meeting. Once again you might say. I have been fortunate enough to also attending the Annual Meeting in Medan in 2013. 2.-0 LCA consultants have a long history of providing data and methodology to enable a more sustainable production of palm oil from 2004 where I started my Ph.D. study on LCA of palm oil and rapeseed oil. You can see my speech at the meeting in Medan here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGlHzailfG4

Palm oil is used in a multitude of products and palm oil is the oil that is affected when there are changes in the demand for unspecified vegetable oil (Schmidt and Weidema 2008). Therefore, it is important to address the potential environmental impacts that the palm oil production might have in an informed and facts based way – using life cycle thinking.

Fortunately, consumers are increasingly demanding products containing palm oil produced without harm to the environment. The industry has responded to this demand by creating the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Furthermore, a certification system has been developed to ensure sustainable palm oil production.

But how much better is the environmental profile of RSPO certified palm oil actually when compared to non-certified palm oil in the market? And what does the certification mean from a life cycle perspective? These answers we do not yet have.

Therefore we have initiated a crowd-funded initiative: LCA of RSPO certified palm oil.

The initiative aims to provide a complete cradle-to-gate LCA study, including oil palm cultivation, palm oil mill and refinery, as well as other relevant upstream processes. We will cover a wide set of environmental impact categories, including GHG emissions and biodiversity impacts and offsetting hereof from nature conservation. Furthermore, the initiative will address both direct and indirect land use changes, which are also important in relation to a sustainable palm oil production.

With this project, we both provide stakeholders in the palm oil value chain with highly valuable information, and we demonstrate what LCA should be used for – i.e. fostering improvements instead of just document the current status.

You can read more about the initiative on our project page.

References:

Schmidt (2013). Video of presentation in Medan 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGlHzailfG4

Schmidt J H, Weidema B P (2008). Shift in the marginal supply of vegetable oil. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 13(3):235‑239. https://lca-net.com/p/995