Framework for scenario development in LCA

Pesonen H-L, Ekvall T, Fleischer G, Huppes G, Jahn C, Klos Z S, Rebitzer G, Sonnemann G, Tintinelli A, Weidema B P, Wenzel H (2000)

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International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 5(1):21-30


This article is based on the work of the SETAC-Europe LCA Working Group ‘Scenario Development in LCA’, which has started its work in April 1998. The goal of the Working Group is to focus on the use of scenarios in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This article presents the results of the first phase of the Working Group. The previous definitions of scenarios include three common basic elements: the definition of alternative future circumstances, the path from the present to the future, and the inclusion of uncertainty in the concept. We define a scenario in LCA as “a description of a possible future situation relevant for specific LCA applications, based on specific assumptions about the future, and (when relevant) also including the presentation of the development from the present to the future.’

On the basis of the scenario definition we distinguish between two basic approaches for scenario development in LCA studies: What-if scenarios and Cornerstone scenarios. What-if scenarios are used to gain operational information and to compare two or more alternatives in a well-known situation with a short time horizon where the researcher is familiar with the decision problem and can set defined hypothesis on the basis of existing data. The Cornerstone scenario approach offers strategic information for long term planning, new ways of seeing the world, and also guidelines in the field of study. Results of a study using the Cornerstone scenario approach often serve as a basis for further, more specific research where the scenarios can be defined according to What-if scenarios.

The frames of the scenarios are defined in the first phase of LCA, the goal and scope definition. Scenario development does, however, influence all of the following phases of LCA. The frames of the scenarios form the basis for modelling product systems and environmental impacts associated with products and services, which are not exactly known due to lacking information on parts of the life cycle.

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