Responsible editor: Alessandra Zamagni
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1439-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The purpose of this article is to examine the arguments in favor of a shift from value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax to a damage and value-added tax (DaVAT) partially based on the life cycle assessment (LCA) of goods and services. With this shift, goods and services that seriously harm the environment and human health will be priced up, those that impact them less will be priced down. The paper recalls the proposal made by De Camillis and Goralczyk (Int J Life Cycle Assess 18:263–272, 2013) to differentiate the VAT rate associated with products according to their environmental impacts over their life cycle. The paper suggests a new way to convert VAT into DaVAT, examines the operating principles of such a system, and considers its practical feasibility. The new policy tool based on LCA presented is intended to be applied to every country wishing to reform its consumption tax system in order to strive for a more sustainable future. Some aspects specific to countries having the same currency, notably the Euro zone, are also discussed.
The proposal of De Camillis and Goralczyk is discussed from the perspective of both environmental performance and compliance with LCA standards. To overcome the identified difficulties, a new way of adapting VAT (or consumption taxes in general) according to LCA is suggested. The proposal relies on three essential points: (i) apply VAT (or consumption taxes in general) to all goods and services and reduce its multiple rates to one single low rate (e.g., 3%) called uniform VAT (UVAT); (ii) add to UVAT a per-unit tax called global damage tax (GDT) calculated on the basis of environmental impacts assessed by means of specific or generic LCAs. In the case of potentially high-polluting products or industries, a specific LCA will be automatically imposed. The obligation to assess high-polluting activities already exists in many countries with, e.g., environmental impact studies, but the impacts are not necessarily evaluated by LCA; (iii) in order to reflect environmental, social, or ethical concerns specific to a country, another damage tax termed specific damage tax (SDT) is proposed that extends beyond LCA. DaVAT is the sum of UVAT, GDT, and SDT. DaVAT is conceived not as an additional burden but rather as a shift of taxation, as the rate of the old consumption taxes can decrease proportionally to the increase of GDT. DaVAT is also designed in such a way that the erosion of tax revenues, when pollutant would decline, is offset by the extension of the tax to all goods and services and by the possibility to gradually re-increase the UVAT rate when the number of highly polluting products decreases.
Results and discussion
The proposal is examined first from a theoretical point of view by considering which principles should be used to comply with LCA standards and general requirements of (environmental) tax policies. Four general principles emerge: consistency in the choice of the functional unit and in the characterization, normalization and weighting methods, transparency of information about the environmental score of the product, evolution capacity of the levers of the tax and of the assessment methods, respect for national sovereignty concerning the setting of the tax price. The proposal is also examined from a practical point of view by asking how the DaVAT system would work in practice. The answer takes into account associated costs, risks of fraud, price changes, and acceptability of the proposal. The issue about price changes is addressed on the basis of a simulation drawn from six published LCA studies on different products.
The proposal to replace most of the VAT or sales tax with a unitary global damage tax based on LCA of goods and services seems to meet expectations not only in terms of theoretical consistency and practical feasibility but also from the perspective of income tax consolidation, environmental efficiency, and sustainable growth. The study concludes by pointing out the limits of an LCA-based tax and by suggesting a framework for a closer examination of the DaVAT system in order to verify that it would provide the intended incentives and to explore the modalities of its implementation.