A consistent framework for assessing the impacts from resource use – A focus on resource functionality

Stewart M, Weidema B P (2005)

Publication info

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 10(4):240-247



The quantification of resource depletion in Life Cycle Assessment has been the topic of much debate; to date no definitive approach for quantifying effects in this impact category has been developed. In this paper we argue that the main reason for this extensive debate is because all methods for quantifying resource depletion impacts have focussed on resource extraction.

Aim and Scope

To further the state of the debate we present a general framework for assessing the impacts of resource use across the entire suite of biotic and abiotic resources. The main aim of this framework is to define the necessary and sufficient set of information required to quantify the effects of resources use.


Our method is based on a generic concept of the quality state of resource inputs and outputs to and from a production system. Using this approach we show that it is not the extraction of materials which is of concern, but rather the dissipative use and disposal of materials. Using this as a point of departure we develop and define two key variables for use in the modelling of impacts of resource use, namely the ultimate quality limit, which is related to the functionality of the material, and backup technology. Existing methodologies for determining the effects of resource depletion are discussed in the context of this framework.


We demonstrate the ability of the general framework to describe impacts related to all resource categories: metallic and non-metallic minerals, energy minerals, water, soil, and biotic resources (wild or domesticated plants and animals).


We focus on suggestions for a functionality measure for each of these categories; and how best the two modelling variables derived can be determined.

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