Accounting for Ecosystem Services in Ecologically Based Life Cycle Assessment (Eco-LCA) by Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Information

Sustainable Engineering Forum
2009 AIChE Annual Meeting
AIChE Annual Meeting
November 12, 2009 - 7:00pm
The need of accounting for ecosystem services has been unanimously accepted to be crucial for meeting the goal of sustainability as purported by MEA report [1] .The Ecologically Based Life Cycle Assessment (Eco-LCA) has been recently developed to meet the requirement of accounting for the role of ecosystem goods and services in industrial activities [2], [3]. However, considering the complexity of ecosystems and multitude of services provided there are still many ecosystem services which have not been accounted for completely in Eco-LCA. The services included in Eco-LCA so far include mainly provisioning services, which include goods such as minerals, fuels, food and water, and supporting services, which mainly represent biogeochemical cycles that support all other services. Conventional LCA methods account for many provisioning services, but ignore most other services.

It is important to account for the role of other ecosystem services, including regulating services, which include climate, flood and pest regulation. Some of the missing services can be quantified, while for others, only qualitative information is available. Among services that can be quantified, this work accounts for carbon sequestration and the nitrogen footprint. Carbon sequestration services considered in this work include those due to land use and land use change, soil sink by croplands remaining cropland, urban trees and organic landfills . Additional sources of emissions due to anthropogenic activities include emissions due to land converted to cropland, grassland remaining grassland and other agricultural emissions such as fertilization and liming. The present work includes these additional sources and sinks of carbon emissions in Eco-LCA quantitatively. Agricultural soil management and manure management is contributing largely to indirect emissions of nitrous oxide and ammonia , nitrogen runoff and leaching causing negative impacts on ecosystems and loss of ecosystem services such as fisheries. It also contributes to global warming potential and climate change which necessitates to limit and calculate nitrogen footprint in economy. Hence, these additional sources of nitrogen emissions are also included via Eco-LCA model. For services that are difficult to quantify, the approach adopted in this work is to represent these services in a qualitative manner. This is similar to the approach of ecosystem services review developed by the World Resources Institute. This includes regulating services like air quality regulation, climate regulation, disease and pest regulation etc. Our approach utilizes process level information to identify critical ecosystem services at a scale of 0-5 and includes any quantitative information available for the same at process scale. Such qualitative insight about the dependence of system on these ecosystem services will help identify the critical ecosystem services in the life cycle of processes. Hence, the proposed quantitative-qualitative approach will provide a holistic analysis of dependence of system on ecosystem services.

References

1.http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.aspx

2.Ecologically based LCA -An approach for quantifying the role of natural capital in product life cycles. PhD Thesis. Zhang Yi (2008), The Ohio State University

3.Eco-LCA tool : http://resilience.eng.ohio-state.edu/ecolca-ui/&'
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