Integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services in life cycle assessment : methodological proposals for new challengesIntegrating biodiversity and ecosystem services in life cycle assessment : methodological proposals for new challenges
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Plant and Vegetation Ecology (PLECO)
Engineering sciences. Technology
Chemical engineering transactions
42(2014), p. 127-132
University of Antwerp
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method used to quantify potential environmental impacts in the entire life cycle of a product or service, starting at raw material acquisition, production, use, and eventually its disposal. It is the leading methodology for environmental metrics today the French government recently ran a pilot for a labelling program for consumer goods where indicators displayed in labels should be calculated using LCA. The European Commission did the same for their Product Footprint Guidelines. However, LCA features many methodological shortcomings when dealing with biophysical indicators. Land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services are relevant aspects to policy-makers and consumers, but their characterization factors are not yet accurately calculated. LCA has a hard time grasping effects that are dynamic, scale-dependent, non-linear and/or hard to quantify unambiguously. In fact, out of the four conventional types of ecosystem services (provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services and supporting services) only the first and the last are partially captured in LCA results. Similarly, out of the five drivers of change to biodiversity identified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (habitat change, climate change, pollution, invasive alien species and overexploitation) only the first three are included in standard LCA calculations. This review article presents a brief assessment of how biodiversity and ecosystem services are incorporated in LCA today. The standard Life Cycle Impact Assessment models are described according to the most recent developments. Ground-breaking work is undergoing, making the field very active and constantly innovating. For example, regionalized characterization factors for the impacts of biodiversity are now available using species richness as a proxy for the overall state of biodiversity. Tools for ecosystem services have also been proposed. Finally, a compilation of some challenges ahead is listed to present several ideas for the improvement of current impact assessment methods.