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03.01.2018 | WATER USE IN LCA

Addressing water needs of freshwater ecosystems in life cycle impact assessment of water consumption: state of the art and applicability of ecohydrological approaches to ecosystem quality characterization

Zeitschrift:
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Autoren:
Mattia Damiani, Montserrat Núñez, Philippe Roux, Eléonore Loiseau, Ralph K. Rosenbaum
Wichtige Hinweise
Responsible editor: Stephan Pfister

Abstract

Purpose

In recent history, human development overbalanced towards economic growth has often been accompanied by the degradation and reduction of freshwater resources at the expense of freshwater dependent ecosystems. For their subsistence and correct functioning, understanding environmental water requirements (EWR) represents an area of great interest for life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) and it has been only marginally explored. The aim of this paper is to investigate how this concept has evolved in ecological and hydrological literature and how it can be better integrated in LCIA, to identify potential options for improvement of LCIA indicators in the short, mid and long term.

Methods

To address the limitations of existing LCIA approaches in modelling EWR, four families of EWR methods have been reviewed, namely hydrological, hydraulic, habitat simulation and holistic methods. Based on existing scientific literature and their broad application, 24 methods have been selected and their suitability to be adopted in LCIA has been evaluated against nine criteria, with regard to data management issues, accuracy, scientific robustness, and potential for future development. A semi-quantitative performance score has been subsequently assigned for each criterion, showing the main strengths and weaknesses of selected methods.

Results and discussion

The underlying rationale of the chosen approaches is markedly different, likewise the input information needed and results applicability. Hydrological methods are well suited for the development of global models and they are the only ones currently considered in LCIA, although their applicability remains limited to water stress indicators. Habitat modelling is identified as an essential step for the development of mechanistic LCIA models and endpoint indicators. In this respect, hydraulic, habitat simulation and holistic methods are fit for the purpose. However, habitat simulation methods represent the best compromise between scientific robustness and applicability in LCIA. For this reason, a conceptual framework for the development of habitat-based characterization factors has been proposed. Among the evaluated habitat simulation methods, ESTIMHAB showed the best performance and was the method retained for the development of an LCIA model that will assess the consequences of water consumption on stream ecosystems.

Conclusions

This study identifies the advantages of specific modelling approaches for the assessment of water requirements for ecosystems. Selected methods could support the development of LCIA models at different levels. In the short-term for improving environmental relevance of water stress indicators, and in the mid/long-term to build up midpoint habitat indicators relating water needs of ecosystems with new endpoint metrics.

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