Ecosystem Services in Life Cycle Assessment While Encouraging Techno‐Ecological Synergies

  • March 2018
  • Peer-Reviewed Articles
  • Multiple

Liu, X. & B.R. Bakshi. (2018). Ecosystem Services in Life Cycle Assessment while Encouraging Techno‐Ecological Synergies. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 23(2).

ABSTRACT: Life cycle assessment (LCA) has enabled consideration of environmental impacts beyond the narrow boundary of traditional engineering methods. This reduces the chance of shifting impacts outside the system boundary. However, sustainability also requires that supporting ecosystems are not adversely affected and remain capable of providing goods and services for supporting human activities. Conventional LCA does not account for this role of nature, and its metrics are best for comparing alternatives. These relative metrics do not provide information about absolute environmental sustainability, which requires comparison between the demand and supply of ecosystem services (ES). Techno‐ecological synergy (TES) is a framework to account for ES, and has been demonstrated by application to systems such as buildings and manufacturing activities that have narrow system boundaries.

This article develops an approach for techno‐ecological synergy in life cycle assessment (TES‐LCA) by expanding the steps in conventional LCA to incorporate the demand and supply of ecosystem goods and services at multiple spatial scales. This enables calculation of absolute environmental sustainability metrics, and helps identify opportunities for improving a life cycle not just by reducing impacts, but also by restoring and protecting ecosystems. TES‐LCA of a biofuel life cycle demonstrates this approach by considering the ES of carbon sequestration, air quality regulation, and water provisioning. Results show that for the carbon sequestration ecosystem service, farming can be locally sustainable but unsustainable at the global or serviceshed scale. Air quality regulation is unsustainable at all scales, while water provisioning is sustainable at all scales for this study in the eastern part of the United States.

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