2.-0 LCA consultants https://lca-net.com Better decision-making for sustainable development Thu, 15 Nov 2018 12:13:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is there a future for plastics? https://lca-net.com/blog/is-there-a-future-for-plastics/ Thu, 30 Aug 2018 07:19:39 +0000 http://lca-net.com/?p=3120 Plastic is a ubiquitous material with many benefits such as low price and weight and an extreme functional versatility. Plastics are pervasively used in modern society. However, the uses of petro-based plastics present us with some serious problems. First of all, we are talking about huge amounts of plastics. The approximate global production is around...

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Plastic is a ubiquitous material with many benefits such as low price and weight and an extreme functional versatility. Plastics are pervasively used in modern society.

However, the uses of petro-based plastics present us with some serious problems. First of all, we are talking about huge amounts of plastics. The approximate global production is around 480 mio tonnes of plastics produced every year (2011 data[1]) and is expected to double within the next 20 years. Currently the production of plastics accounts for around 3% of global GHG emissions[1].

Research from the past decade has demonstrated plastic contamination from micro-plastics being washed out as products are produced and used[2]. Microplastics are now routinely found in marine food chains[3], and the situation in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems might be the same, as recent research demonstrates[4]. Furthermore most of us have seen troubling pictures of ‘macroplastics’ contaminating oceans, landscapes or cities around the world. Plastics in the environment cause serious ecological problems, but also represent a substantial economic challenge, as materials are wasted and fisheries and tourism are negatively affected.

In January 2018 a strategy to turn the ‘plastics economy’ into a circular economy was put forward by the European Commission as one of the solutions to the environmental problems of the production and use of plastics[5]. In a circular economy, focus is on keeping the values in the economy for as long as possible by keeping them in the ‘loop’ by reuse and recycle initiatives, as well as to minimise the materials (waste) that goes out of the loop[6].

For plastics, special attention is on reducing the waste component, as around 95% of plastics are only used once. Improving designs and options for consumer sorting and recycling can be an important part of the solution. Similarly there is a potential to improve the economy of post-use plastics as the market lacks unified standards and infrastructure for reprocessing[7]. A final approach that is often mentioned is to innovate various non-petro plastic systems, leading to products that are bio-degradable.

While the circular economy thinking intuitively makes sense to consumers and decisions makers, there are quite a few pitfalls seen from the life cycle assessment (LCA) perspective. When real life causalities are not appropriately investigated and considered, I am left with such questions as: Is recycling always a good idea? How do we compare single use vs. multiple use solutions? Are the alternatives to plastic really better for the environment?

Unfortunately, these questions are often not addressed. In the supermarkets, I begin to see bio products being labelled with blatantly incorrect claims, such as being 100% CO2 neutral. Let us remind ourselves that the old adage ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ is true here as well – producing and using bio plastics has environmental implications just as the petro plastics have.

Luckily, we have the tools to arrive at a more balanced view of the pros and cons by applying LCA that provide answers to the above question (and more). Some of my rules of thumbs are:

  • Always consider the trade offs (What is being replaced? Pick the solution that is actually best for the environment, avoiding suboptimisation)
  • For recycling, consider what is replaced (i.e., can reuse replace equal materials or products – avoiding down-cycling?).
  • Biomaterials or products are not inherently free of GHG implications, land use effects, or biodiversity concerns (look at the full picture).
  • Be critical – find the relation between causes and effects (e.g., marine litter is not caused by plastic production, but a missing waste management)
  • Realize that sometimes more investigations are needed to reveal the true consequences of product choices.

As sustainability professionals, we need to support the decision makers and consumers to ask for truly sustainable designs and material choices. Sometimes this implies saying something that goes a bit against the grain.

It is important to distinguish between micro-plastic and “macro-plastic”. Micro-plastics, e.g., micro-beads used as scrubbers and micro-fibres from washing of synthetic textiles, pass unaltered through most waste treatment systems, and end up in the environment. Micro-beads have no options for recycling, and biodegradable alternatives are available. Thus, there are obvious reasons for banning such products, as has already been done for their use in cosmetics and personal care products in a number of countries.

For synthetic textiles and macro-plastics, the picture is quite different. When considering the alternatives, petro-plastic based products often turn out to be better for the environment, as long as it is collected and properly treated after use, so that it does not end up to decompose in nature. Capturing micro-fibres directly from the washing process therefore appears a necessity. When suggesting designs for recycling we need to make sure that fractions are clean or can be easily separated, so that downcycling is avoided as far as possible. In some situations switching to selling ‘a service’ though rental, instead of selling ‘a product’ can be a game changer, as rental comes with built-in repeated use of the product. Take-back systems also need to be investigated further, and those that actually work for the environment should be chosen over those that miss the point.

I believe there is a sustainable future for plastics, when we seriously consider the facts that we have at hand.

References

[1] Exiobase.eu

[2] Law K L 2017. Plastics in the Marine Environment. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 9:205–29. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-marine-010816-060409

[3] Cole M, Lindeque P, Halsband C, Galloway T S 2011. Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: A review. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62(12): 588-2597 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X11005133

[4] Rochman C M 2018. Microplastics research—from sink to source. Science April:28-29. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6384/28.full

[5] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Concil the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.

COM/2018/028 final https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1516265440535&uri=COM:2018:28:FIN

[6] Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016. The new plastics economy –rethinking the future of plastics https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics

[7] Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016. The new plastics economy –rethinking the future of plastics https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics

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Kick-off for the linking of SDGs to LCA https://lca-net.com/blog/kick-off-for-the-linking-of-sdgs-to-lca/ Tue, 31 Jul 2018 07:18:05 +0000 http://lca-net.com/?p=3109 My blog-post last October announced our SDG club – a crowd-funded project to place each of the 169 targets of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into a comprehensive, quantified and operational impact pathway framework, as we know it from Life Cycle Impact Assessment. Now, with co-financing from the UN Environment Life Cycle Initiative,...

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My blog-post last October announced our SDG club – a crowd-funded project to place each of the 169 targets of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into a comprehensive, quantified and operational impact pathway framework, as we know it from Life Cycle Impact Assessment.

Now, with co-financing from the UN Environment Life Cycle Initiative, we have added an elaborate stakeholder consultation to run parallel with the development work, and expanded the project by teaming up with PRé Consultants to cover also the more qualitative approach known from their Roundtable for Product Social Metrics.
To mark the start of this collaboration, we published yesterday a joint, free, 13-page report entitled “Making the SDGs relevant to business”, summarising the existing knowledge on the linking of SDGs to business needs and outlining the role of LCA in meeting the needs and filling the gaps.

We are now looking for businesses that are interested in taking part in the stakeholder consultations and industry case studies. Contact bo.weidema@lca-net.com if you want to take part or know more.

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PEF weighed and found wanting https://lca-net.com/blog/pef-weighed-and-found-wanting/ Tue, 05 Jun 2018 07:37:15 +0000 http://lca-net.com/?p=3045 Our guest-blogger today is Maartje Sevenster, Sevenster Environmental, who has followed and analysed the process leading to the recently published weighting method for the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF). Here she shares her serious reservations on the process and the results. A weighting set for the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) was published last month....

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Our guest-blogger today is Maartje Sevenster, Sevenster Environmental, who has followed and analysed the process leading to the recently published weighting method for the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF). Here she shares her serious reservations on the process and the results.

A weighting set for the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) was published last month. The weighting factors have been developed by the Joint Research Centre via an elaborate approach that has attempted to separate value-based weighting into objective factors. Nevertheless, the result is a poor, semi-qualitative approximation that mixes characterization, distance-to-target weighting, panel weighting, and uncertainty. All in all, the approach comes across as a black box of flawed mathematical operations.

A PEF consists of a characterization result for each of 16 impact categories, a corresponding set of weighted normalised results, and one single-score result. The use of this weighting method and the resulting single-score will be a requirement in all PEF studies and is meant to facilitate interpretation.

The final weighting set is an average of three independently derived sets, with the average multiplied by a robustness factor. Two of three independent sets are derived via traditional panel weighting and the third is based on a hybrid ‘evidence-based’ approach.

The term evidence-based has a feel of objectivity about it, but in its first part the approach applies weighting to issues that could better be investigated by natural science, and in the second part – that necessarily must be based on subjective preferences – the chosen approach violates basic requirements for good valuation practice.

In the first part of the JRC approach, an expert panel was asked to score the below seven characteristics of impacts on a scale from 1 to 100:

  • Spread of impact
  • Time span of generated impact
  • Reversibility of impact
  • Level of impact compared to planetary boundary
  • Severity of effect on human health
  • Severity of effect on ecosystem quality
  • Severity of effect on resources availability

It is immediately obvious that many of these factors, such as time span, are already covered by the commonly used LCA natural science based characterization models, even if they are not always made explicit in the end results. In fact, Annex 13 of the JRC weighting report includes a similar criticism by Mark Goedkoop: “using a panel to link mid to endpoint is really weird. This means we replace science by the verdict of panellist. I am quite aware about some of the uncertainties in the mid to end point factors, but I always thought we prefer science over the laymen’s view. Uncertain science is always better than no science at all.” Another example: the use of GWP100 for characterizing global climate change impacts implies a natural science based assessment of the timing of the impacts for comparison of greenhouse gas emissions. Is it then valid to subsequently allow an expert panel to assign a zero weight to time span as a weighting factor, which was theoretically possible for the experts in this approach?

Only two of the seven factors are not part of LCA characterization models, namely reversibility and level compared to planetary boundary. Reversibility is also the only factor that is intrinsically categorical and therefore an excellent illustration of the artificiality of the approach. Is it valid to say that an irreversible impact is (only) a 100 times worse than an impact that can be reversed by natural processes within one year? It would certainly be useful to dicuss these factors prior to determining a multi-criteria type panel weighting per impact category.

Factors such as reversibility and time span may well play a role in expert judgements of the severity of a certain impact as compared to others. However, the JRC approach first introduces a categorical scaling for each of those factors turning them into artificial ordinal variables. For instance, for time span the following categories are used:

  • Momentary [less than 1 month] = score of 1
  • Very short term [more than 1 month and less than 1 year] = score of 20
  • Short term [1-3 years] = score of 40
  • Medium term [4-30 years] = score of 60
  • Long term [31 – 100 years] = score of 80
  • Very long term [more than 100 years] = score of 100

Even though we know precisely that some impacts are instantaneous and others may be spread out over hundreds of thousands of years, such as those of radioactive radiation, the difference is here reduced to an arbitrary factor of 100. The bottom line is that most of the seven factors can be evaluated by natural science, albeit with considerable uncertainty, and do not need expert weighting. The scaling wipes out all scientific evidence and along with it any understanding of what a resulting indicator might really mean.

The second part of the JRC expert weighting procedure is a more traditional expert panel judgement of the relative importance of the seven factors. This leads us to another troubling aspect, which is that the seven factors are not completely independent as is required for proper evaluation of (compensatory) weights. Especially the “level compared to planetary boundary” overlaps with all other factors to at least some extent. Moreover, averaging categorical variables is mathematically meaningless, even when the categories appear to be “numerical”.

Finally, this weighting set from the expert panel is averaged with two other weighting sets derived via a different approach. This seriously undermines the transparency of the weighting, which should at all times be straightforward to interpret, not just a set of numbers to arrive at a single score. This is further aggravated by the use of a robustness factor to assess what is in essence uncertainty. Again, this factor involves three arbitrarily scaled ordinal variables that are averaged. The report shows some inconsistencies regarding the final choice for this robustness factor, which is apparently not considered very robust by JRC, since toxicity impacts have been excluded from the benchmark calculations in spite of already having a very low weighting due to their low estimated robustness. The semi-numerical approach gives a false sense of objectivity to this “uncertainty assessment”.

To summarize, the final weighting set is the result of so many mathematically questionable averaging, scaling, and multiplication steps that it is hard to take serious. To allow for proper interpretation of results, weighting sets should be based on clear and transparent principles. It is preferable to use a single-step conversion with a fairly limited but unambiguous perspective, such as weighting based on damage costs.

Previous blog-posts on PEF:

The clock is ticking for PEF
Harnessing the End‑of‑Life Formula

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Is your pet a climate problem? https://lca-net.com/blog/is-your-pet-a-climate-problem/ Wed, 31 Jan 2018 16:24:59 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2969 The dog is said to be man’s best friend, but is it a climate enemy? Dogs and cats are as fond of meat as are their owners. And therefore their CO2 emissions make up a substantial part of their owners emission totals. In fact, our calculation shows that a 10 kilo dog like the ones...

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The dog is said to be man’s best friend, but is it a climate enemy?

Dogs and cats are as fond of meat as are their owners. And therefore their CO2 emissions make up a substantial part of their owners emission totals. In fact, our calculation shows that a 10 kilo dog like the ones below on average emits up to 1.1 tonnes of CO2 annually, mainly through their meat consumption.

Last week I was called in as an expert for a radio programme: P1 – ‘Your dog, the climate enemy’. This segment is part of a series, ‘The climate testament’, that addresses climate issues and what each of us can do to alleviate some of the problems we face today.

The largest and most obvious problem with cats and dog lies with their meat consumption. As meat is produced, we see both land use effects and various greenhouse gas emissions, since the conversion from plant to animal protein is very inefficient, esp. for the bigger animals like pigs and cows.

For the radio programme, I had calculated emissions for three different dog sizes and I compared these to driving a car, where the emissions from small dog is equivalent to driving up to 1000 km in a average Danish car, while the big dog equals up to 5200 km driven, provided the dogs eat meat. I based these rough and average calculations on the current dietary recommendations for each of the weight classes given by professor Charlotte Bjørnvad. Bjørnvad is a professor in Internal Medicine at Department of Veterinary Clinical and Animal Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

Luckily for the environmentally conscious pet owner, Bjørnvad explained that a conversion to a more climate neutral diet is possible.

Dogs have had a long co-evolution with humans, eating the leftovers from our table. So in spite of their wolf ancestry, they can now thrive on a vegetarian diet. This is also a consequence of breeding, with all the genetic changes that this entails. Charlotte Bjørnvad explained how we could give them a protein base from e.g. beans combined with eggs, but let their main energy come from carbohydrates. In fact, a dog’s digestive system can handle carbohydrates and fibres from vegetables, provided they are heat-treated, just as is the case for humans.

So there is now enough knowledge to suggest it is safe to switch to a vegetarian diet for our canine friends. For cats, it remains a bit more tricky – a suggestion in the programme was to include insects as a source of animal protein for the cats, since they need a wider range of animal proteins in their diet, compared to both humans and dogs.

So starting from a rather polemic initial question; we arrived safely at the end of the radio programme at a solution that can be directly implemented in your dogs food bowl – next step is to push the pet food market in the right direction.

Link:

For those of you that understand Danish the podcast and Danish article is here.

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The clock is ticking for PEF https://lca-net.com/blog/clock-ticking-pef/ Mon, 11 Dec 2017 10:46:49 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2945 Last week I attended a meeting on the EU commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) arranged by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. The PEF initiative was presented as providing a level playing field for competition on environmental claims, countering the current situation that many (allegedly 95% of all environmental claims) are misleading. The PEF pilot phase...

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Last week I attended a meeting on the EU commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) arranged by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. The PEF initiative was presented as providing a level playing field for competition on environmental claims, countering the current situation that many (allegedly 95% of all environmental claims) are misleading.

The PEF pilot phase is now coming to and end, and the Commission representative presented the result as a success story: “We now have a machine that works!” although it was acknowledged that the data to drive the system is still insufficient. The PEF “machine” was likened to a watch that shows the time in simple terms, while the (LCA) clockwork inside is intricate and complex.

In spite of the attempt to present the PEF as a success story, there was much criticism from the more than 100 representatives from Danish industries and NGOs that were present. Some were concerned about the increased costs, pointing out that the money would be better spent on making improvements than on documenting status quo to the consumers. Others questioned whether LCA is at all relevant for consumer information, and it was suggested that new technology is now making LCA information for this purpose out-dated (see also my blog-post on distributed ledger technology).

The PEF system relies on the development of a “Product Category Rule” (PCR) for each product group. These PCRs are developed on a voluntary basis, paid by the majority of the industries that produce the products in each product group, providing a golden business for consultants. During the pilot phase it has turned out that this results in different rules for different products, so that only products within the same product group can be compared (as with the existing eco-labels).

An example from the audience was raised, about the gifts that a speaker often receive as thanks for giving an otherwise unpaid talk: Would a bottle of French wine or a box of locally produced chocolate (with cocoa beans from Africa) be the best choice? Since these two products belong to different product groups, they will have different rules for their PEFs and should therefore not be compared.

This simple example illustrates one of the largest problems of the idea of Product Category Rules, namely that they do not further improvements in environmental performance across product categories. NGOs and scientific advisors have pointed out that even within product categories it is now questionable if the PEF LCA calculation rules further environmental improvements. We have lobbied for constraining the industry consensus on the PCRs to the original Commission Guideline (see also my interpretation guide to this) and the requirements of the ISO LCA standards that focus on environmental improvements, but are now mocked with not understanding that compromise on scientific validity is necessary to reach industry consensus.

Personally, I concluded that if the concern is unfair competition, PEF is not the answer, but rather a part of the problem. A more simple solution would be to enforce the existing legislation on misleading claims, a solution that has worked well in Denmark so far.

In my view, there is not much point in having an expensive watch – even with the simplest user interface – if it shows the wrong time.

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SDG ←→ LCA https://lca-net.com/blog/sdg-and-lca/ Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:43:11 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2903 Since the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were published 2 years ago, much has been said on the difficulty in implementing them into business practice. Part of the difficulty comes from the wordings, which often appear better suited for governmental use than specifically for use in a business context. But the main difficulty comes from the...

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Since the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were published 2 years ago, much has been said on the difficulty in implementing them into business practice. Part of the difficulty comes from the wordings, which often appear better suited for governmental use than specifically for use in a business context. But the main difficulty comes from the sheer number of goals (17) and accompanying targets (169) and indicators (so far 230). While this should provide something for everyone, it also implies an obvious risk of cherry-picking and sub-optimised decision-making. These problems have been pointed out very eloquently by other bloggers, e.g. Nienke Palstra & Ruth Fuller from Bond.

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission have done a great job in pointing out the positive market opportunities that the SDGs open up for first-movers, and the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have teamed up in an action platform to provide best practices for corporate reporting on the SDGs, with a first analysis report published last month and a “Practical Guide for Defining Priorities and Reporting” announced for January 2018.

So what can we add from an LCA perspective that has not already been said and is not already being done? Well, what is missing in the approaches mentioned above, and which LCA has always been focused on providing, is an overall framework can avoid shifting of responsibilities and avoid sub-optimised decision-making.

Therefore, we now launch the SDG club, a new crowd-funded project to place each of the indicators for 169 targets of the 17 SDGs into a comprehensive, quantified and operational impact pathway framework, linking forward to sustainable wellbeing (utility) as a comprehensive summary (endpoint) indicator for all social, ecosystem and economic impacts. At the same time, we will link each of the indicators for 169 targets back to company specific activities and product life cycles, using a global multi-regional input-output database with environmental and socio-economic extensions. Due to the use of a single endpoint, this framework will allow to differentiate major from minor impact pathways, to quantify trade-offs and synergies, and to compare business decisions, performance and improvement options, also across industry sectors. With this project, we wish to provide an actionable and rational method for businesses and governments to integrate the SDGs into decision making and monitoring.

This new project builds on and extends the impact assessment method developed by 2.-0 LCA consultants for social footprinting, which has been successfully tested for feasibility in global supply chain contexts. For example, a recent whitepaper from Nestlé appraised our method with these words:

The great benefit of the Social Footprint method lies in the use of widely available background information from databases to assess social impacts top-down. As opposed to many other approaches, this means that some initial data is available for practically any specific case study, drastically reducing the overall cost

We invite everyone to join the SDG club and thereby contribute to streamline and coordinate action and increase efficiency in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Photo credits: UN Photo/Cia Pak, 22 September 2015, United Nations, New York, Photo # 643590, licence creative commons 2.0.

See also a previous blogpost on sustainability indicators.

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10 years with iLUC research https://lca-net.com/blog/10-years-with-iluc-research/ Sat, 30 Sep 2017 11:41:30 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2817 This year we celebrate more than 10 years of focussed research on Land Use Change (LUC) and indirect Land Use Change (iLUC). We do this with a free webinar on iLUC modelling for up to 100 people on November 15th. Our first publications that included land use effect were about rapeseed and palm oil, and...

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This year we celebrate more than 10 years of focussed research on Land Use Change (LUC) and indirect Land Use Change (iLUC). We do this with a free webinar on iLUC modelling for up to 100 people on November 15th.

Our first publications that included land use effect were about rapeseed and palm oil, and were part of my Ph.D. thesis: Life cycle assessment of rapeseed oil and palm oil from 2007. Ten years later, we are still developing the models and improving the framework for modelling indirect land use changes in life cycle assessment (eg. Schmidt et al. 2015; De Rosa et al. 2017).

Our own efforts have been largely channelled through the iLUC initiative, aka the iLUC Club. We began this project in 2011 and today the iLUC initiative has more than 20 universities and companies as members. We are grateful for their continued support to this important work on towards consistent methodology and modelling of iLUC in life cycle assessment.

We still have a few places for the webinar if you are interested:

References

De Rosa M, Odgaard M V, Staunstrup J K, Knudsen M T, Hermansen J E (2017). Identifying Land Use and Land-Use Changes (LULUC): A Global LULUC Matrix. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51(14):7954–7962 http://lca-net.com/p/2735

Schmidt J H, Weidema B P, Brandão M (2015). A framework for modelling indirect land use changes in life cycle assessment. Journal of Cleaner Production 99:230‑238 http://lca-net.com/p/1863

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Circular responsibility https://lca-net.com/blog/circular-responsibility/ Mon, 07 Aug 2017 13:41:33 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2702 At the core of the circular economy concept we find the closing of material cycles through recycling of by-products and wastes (what some people call the “End-of-Life”, see also my earlier blog-post). Recycling is also a topic that has been investigated widely in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), but here it has turned out to be one...

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At the core of the circular economy concept we find the closing of material cycles through recycling of by-products and wastes (what some people call the “End-of-Life”, see also my earlier blog-post). Recycling is also a topic that has been investigated widely in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), but here it has turned out to be one of the most difficult areas in which to ensure correct information and to avoid greenwashing. Many seek to use recycling as an argument for avoiding responsibility for environmental impacts. So I thought it might be time to summarize some of the problems we have encountered in our LCA practice, and in this way also inform the circular economy discussion on how to tackle the allocation of responsibility and credits for recycling.

In a situation where all the material for recycling is fully utilised:

  • We have seen unfortunate examples where producers seek to wipe off part of their environmental impacts on a high-value by-product, using allocation methods in violation of the ISO standards on LCA, instead of taking responsibility for how their by-products are being treated. An example is where the meat industry seeks to make their meat products look better by allocating part of the meat production impacts to the leather industry – an industry that cannot influence the meat production because there is less supply of hides than what is needed to meet the demand (a situation that is observable from marginal purchasers of leather products needing to accept synthetic alternatives). Instead, meat producers with an ISO-compliant life cycle approach take responsibility for their hides, and to choose the least environmentally impacting processing route, thus stimulating improvements in the leather industry – improvements that are much more difficult for the leather industry when left alone and even burdened on top with “responsibilities” for agricultural activities over which they have no influence.
  • We have seen examples where producers seek to take credit for the imaginary benefits of recycling a fully utilised waste material that would anyway have been recycled, compare their recycled products to virgin products, and spending their efforts on competing for the already fully utilised waste material. Instead, producers that follow an ISO-compliant life cycle approach take credit for the actual expected benefits that their recycling activities provide as services to the producers of the waste, and spend their efforts on competing for making the largest benefits from the recycling activity itself.

In a situation where the material for recycling is not fully utilised, i.e. where surplus materials are being disposed of in e.g. a landfill or stockpile, the options and incentives for greenwashing are smaller because here the users of the surplus materials indeed should take credit for removing materials from the landfill or stockpile, thus reducing environmental impacts. The largest errors we see are when suppliers of the surplus materials seek to take credit for the recycling benefits of that part of the material that is being utilised, when in fact the extent of this recycling is determined by the demand for the surplus material and therefore cannot be influenced by the material suppliers.

So, in conclusion, true circular responsibility is when producers take responsibility for how their by-products and wastes are treated, and avoid taking credit for non-existing recycling benefits.

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What will distributed ledger technology mean for LCA? https://lca-net.com/blog/what-will-distributed-ledger-technology-mean-for-lca/ Tue, 25 Jul 2017 13:59:07 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2682 Distributed Ledger Technology, informally nicknamed “blockchain” or “hashgraph” depending on its core database concept, is a new decentralised digital network technology that has the power to disrupt many existing business practices, including banking, insurance, government services and trade, by radically reducing the cost of financial transactions and contract enforcement. In this blog-post, we investigate how...

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Distributed Ledger Technology, informally nicknamed “blockchain” or “hashgraph” depending on its core database concept, is a new decentralised digital network technology that has the power to disrupt many existing business practices, including banking, insurance, government services and trade, by radically reducing the cost of financial transactions and contract enforcement.

In this blog-post, we investigate how the Distributed Ledger Technology may disrupt the way businesses supply consumers with information on the social or ecosystem impacts of their products – information that is currently provided by eco-labels, fair trade labels and product footprint information, often – or at least ideally – based on product life cycle assessments (LCAs).

A distributed ledger is a chain of time-stamped, cryptographically secured, immutable blocks of consensus-validated digital data, existing in multiple synchronised, geographically distributed copies. Together, these properties make the data practically impossible to tamper with. The technology was first implemented in 2009 as a core component of the crypto-currency Bitcoin.

The Distributed Ledger Technology promises solutions to a number of the current barriers to consumer influence on the sustainability of business practices:

  • The difficulty for consumers to express their requirements in a simple way, without the need for all consumers to agree on exactly the same requirements.
  • The cost of verifying that the producers live up to the requirements, and the risk that the verification is corrupted.
  • The cost of verifying the chain of custody, so that no more certified products are sold than produced.

On the consumer side, the Distributed Ledger Technology offers so-called “smart contracts”: self-executing digital contracts verified for authenticity on the distributed ledger. This means that consumers need not agree on a specific certification scheme. One consumer may want to buy only from supply chains that adhere to a specified fair wage policy, while another consumer may be concerned only with climate-forcing emissions. Both consumers can place their demands (and their time-limited willingness to pay for each requirement) on the digital marketplace in the form of a “smart contract”, promising to release their (premium) payment as soon as a verified supplier has been found. In this way, consumers can make requirements even if there is no current supply chain that fulfils these requirements. In fact, the consumer demands do not even need to be linked to product purchases, but may be seen as separately purchased services. In this way, consumers do not need to look for the certification of every separate product they purchase, but can once and for all (or for example, once a year) decide what demands they want to place on their suppliers and how much they are willing to pay in premium price for each of their requirements. Software apps can help the consumers make informed choices about (adjustments to) their purchasing profile.

For verification, Distributed Ledger Technology can replace costly and corruptible auditors by a crowd-based reporting mechanism, as already implemented in prediction market schemes (see e.g., https://www.augur.net), where verification is converted into a digital asset. The reputation of verifiers is a valuable resource that it takes time and good behaviour to build up, and which it is therefore very costly for a verifier to loose. Any attempt to influence the verification outcomes can furthermore be revealed and intercepted by an economically incentivized whistleblower function. Such decentralised verification does not need to be 100% accurate, as long as the likelihood of being caught lying is high enough and the punishment is expensive enough to discourage the bad behaviour. The higher the desired accuracy, the more costly the verification scheme, but it will still be much less costly than e.g. a physical audit scheme based on accredited accountants or similar schemes that are currently used to verify the integrity of e.g. ecological farming practices. We still need to develop the coarse global reporting mechanisms of the emerging prediction markets into a more granular community-controlled approach that can draw both on expert-knowledge (like Max Havelaar) or people who are just at the right spot (e.g. neighbours to the producers).

It is possible to place requirements on every step in the supply chain. It is relevant to do so, not only to guarantee the chain of custody (ensuring that the amount of certified products sold do not exceed those bought), but also because every step has its own emissions and its own employees. While the behaviour of every supplier needs to be verified by the above procedure of “smart contracts” verified by distributed betting, the distributed ledger ensures the traceability of certified inputs and outputs. With Distributed Ledger Technology, the chain of custody can be ensured without the need for expensive and corruptible paper trails and physical audits. Schemes for authentication of supply chains have already been launched, e.g. by Everledger for diamonds, or more generally by www.provenance.org.

If the consumers are not concerned with the specific origin of each specific product, but only with the overall amount of required behaviour (for example that a fair wage has been paid to the farmer of 10 kg coffee somewhere, rather than that coffee that I buy has been grown by this specific farmer), then the system could be simplified, since the chain of custody would not be needed. It is enough to ensure that there is some enterprise somewhere that has fulfilled the certification requirement for the amount of product or service purchased. For this purpose, there are already nascent initiatives, see e.g. https://medium.com/giveth.

In conclusion, the Distributed Ledger Technology is likely to bring increased quality, credibility and ease of use to sustainability information on products, radically changing the role of formal LCAs in providing this information. From a sustainable development perspective, the largest challenge may be that the new technology does not in itself exclude “greenwashing” – situations as known from some current environmental product declarations where a beneficial location, past good behaviour, or the past efforts of others, are used to market a product as superior, without any guarantees that improvements will be made as a consequence of the purchase. So LCA, which focuses on the consequences of (purchase) decisions, may continue to have an important role to play in educating consumers to know what to look for in a smart contract to ensure that their purchase will lead to actual improvements.

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The next step – open LCA data https://lca-net.com/blog/next-step-open-lca-data/ Fri, 26 May 2017 15:22:00 +0000 https://lca-net.com/?p=2654 In a previous blog-post, I used this picture to illustrate the gap between the available information (the large circles) and how much of this information is typically used by current LCA practice (the smaller circles within each large one): At 2.-0 LCA consultants we have been working hard to ensure that we use the most...

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In a previous blog-post, I used this picture to illustrate the gap between the available information (the large circles) and how much of this information is typically used by current LCA practice (the smaller circles within each large one):

At 2.-0 LCA consultants we have been working hard to ensure that we use the most recent, transparent, reviewed, and spatially detailed data, modelling economic activities with data from globally complete and physically balanced IO-databases, including rebound effects based on marginal consumer behaviour, modelling impacts with a social footprinting method that covers the total global annual loss of natural habitats, human health, and social wellbeing, and by modelling values with data from welfare economics on market prices and representative population surveys, including equity-weighting and science-based discounting.

But staying on top of the current exponential growth of data requires the use of new social and digital technologies: To make efficient use of the options offered by what Klaus Schwab has called the fourth industrial revolution we need to cooperate as a community and use the automated tools of artificial intelligence to create and use linked open data. This is the reason that 2.-0 LCA consultants have decided to sponsor the work of BONSAI – The Big Open Network of Sustainability Assessment Information.

We see how other scientific communities, from astronomy to deep earth seismology, struggle with the same problems of managing the unprecedented amount of data needed to provide increasingly precise understanding and predictions within their fields. We see how these scientific communities have embraced open data as fundamental for the advancement of their research, and have started to cooperate across scientific disciplines.

Last month, I attended – together with BONSAI executive Michele De Rosa – the 9th plenary meeting of the Research Data Alliance (RDA). RDA is a community-driven organization with more than 5000 members from 123 countries, building the social and technical infrastructure to enable open sharing of big data. It was a vibrant, overwhelming experience that confirmed to us that the time for open science is now mature. With an interdisciplinary perspective, the many Interest Groups (IG) and Working Groups (WG) in RDA address common problems such as how to harmonize metadata structure, how to address data classification issues, how to credit scientists for sharing data, how to address the legal issues concerning the sharing and harvesting of data. If you are curious to know more, a full report from our activities at the RDA plenary is now available.​

The scientific domains of LCA, industrial ecology and IO-economics, were, to our knowledge, represented at RDA for the first time by us, which made us feel more like representatives of a laggard community than pioneers.

We believe that the LCA community needs to come up to speed and engage more intimately with the data science community, and we therefore intend to maintain a constant presence in RDA. Plenaries are held twice a year and the next plenary will be in September in Montreal. We are working on a session proposal to create an Interest Group within RDA to target the needs of our scientific domain and invite the LCA community to join us with contributions and suggestions.

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