USING LCA TO MAKE BETTER DECISIONS AND POLICIES

 

Going beyond Life Cycle Inventory

 

Life cycle assessments (LCAs) for an overwhelming portion of products and services must draw on estimates of the environmental impacts of potable water. Close to a hundred LCAs have been published characterizing the impacts of water supply systems. The great diversity of water systems and their locations leads to diversity of environmental impacts which depends on local conditions.

 

However, extensive LCI databases that are site specific do not exist. Thus, in the absence of localized Life Cycle Inventories (LCIs), most analyses draw their impact figures for water from one of a few standard life cycle inventories, the applicability of which to a given local case is uncertain. In this study a comprehensive and rigorous review of LCAs of  water supply systems and sub-systems has been performed, to better understand the sources of variation in these studies, and identify those elements of the water-supply system with the consistently highest environmental impacts.

 

Harmonization has been carried out rigorously, utilizing a systematic differentiation of the subsystems, functional units, and system boundaries referenced in over 100 candidate studies, to produce a comparable subset of 32 LCA studies.  Statistical techniques (cluster analysis and analysis of variance) were used to isolate and validate the main causes of variation and the sub-systems in which these are most pronounced. The study clearly indicates the large environmental impact of desalination, and shows the presence or absence of desalination (and thermal desalination in particular) as a determinant of the environmental impacts of water supply systems, with other factors in a secondary role.

 

Our results show the importance of LCA analysis that goes beyond standard LCI databases to consider the local contexts of water production, and points the way to doing so without conducting a localized analysis in each case. Given the large variation we describe in the impacts of water supply systems (from 0.12 to 3.4 Kg CO2-eq/m3 of supplied water), an  LCA of water-intensive products drawing from a standard LCI databases could be substantially inaccurate in different settings, especially in a region with desalination--an uncertainty that can be reduced considerably by taking this into account.

 

 

Defining Green Building criteria

 

The lab is examining the applicability of different product sustainability indicators, among them green building solutions in Israel. The green building indicator  set focuses on two out of the three dimensions in sustainability: environment and economics. It analyses the effect different actors (manufacturers, consumers, and governmnet), and their interaction, have on product sustainability.  The indicators' goal is to express relatively simply the measure of a product effect on the environment, and thus benefit manufacturers, consumers, and government in their decision making process.  

 

The environmental indicators are based on life cycle thinking, and they examine three main phases in the product life cycle: manufacturing, use, and end of life, referring specifically to products in the green building industry. The indicators examine the level of sustainability at each phase in its own,  and how it lays the foundation for the following phases so they can improve their sustainability as well. 

 

On the economic side the indicators were built based on an environmental economy perspective, and it examines whether the opportunities to reach a double dividend were exhausted, so as to gain both on the economic and the environmental frots simultaneously. The ability to reach a double dividend are often embedded in different management categories, and the indicators looks at how much companies make use of such opportunities. 

 

Based on these principles, we developed a criteria table and scoring mechanism as a practical, applicable tool. It is comprehensive yet fairly simple, comparable and effective in estimating  a green building product level of sustainability. The table looks at all the relevant angles listed above, and translates them to direct questions that can be answered using data from different sources. Most of the criteria detailed in the table reciew elements in the product under examination, and some of them refer to wider aspects, such as the manufacturer's economic-environmental practices, consumer behavior,  and recycling companies activity at the product's end of life. The indicators' applicability is validated using three case studies of products from the green building market in Israel.  

Overcoming legal and institutional barriers to LCA

 

Using LCA for supporting pubic policy and environmental regulation can have distinct benefits. In many ways this approach surpasses existing regulatory approaches and means, if it is embedded in abiding legislation.  

 

However, government implementation of the LCA approach is not simple. Other than the practical barriers that stem from its complexity and cost, countries to not percieve their regulation's role as preventing environmental harm outside the scope of their geographic national borders. In the current legal climate, it is not obvious that states have the authority or the ability to do so. Facing substantial legal barriers, any state's attempt to act in a way that takes into consideration environmental impacts that occured in the territorial jurisdiction of foreign countries could possibly raise concerns regarding legitimacy, and face legal restrictions and objections. Both in environmental regulations within the country, and in the international arena. All these make it harder for governments to embed LCA in a legitimate legal framework, and apply it in practice. Thus, in order to implement LCA, states must create an enbaling legal environment.  

 

This research studies whether states should take into consideration environmental impacts outside their borders, and why LCA would be the right approach to do so. It maps the practical and legal barriers to implementing LCA, as well as possible solutions to face and remove them. Finally, it offers appropriate regulatory tools through which states can adopt the LCA perspective and put it into force.

Publications

Raz G., Druehl c., Blass V. (2013) "Design for the Environment: Life Cycle Approach Using a Newsvendor Model", Production and Operations Management Journal 22(4): 940-957

Meorn N., Blass V., Garb Y., Kahane Y.,  and Thoma G. 2016. “Why Going beyond Standard LCI Databases is Important: Lessons From A Meta-Analysis of Potable Water Supply System LCAs", International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 21(8); 1134–1147 

Meorn N., Blass V., and Thoma G. “Selection of the Most Appropriate Life-cycle Inventory Dataset: New Selection Proxy Methodology and Case Study Application” (work of supervised PhD student), accepted for publication on December 11, 2019 in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

Meorn N., Blass V., and Thoma G. "A National Level LCA of a Water Supply System in a Mediterranean-Semi-Arid Climate – Israel as a Case Study"(work of supervised PhD student), accepted for publication on March 19, 2020 in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.

 

Conferences & Lectures

Blass V. and Corbett C., “Using LCA in Operations and Supply Chain
Management Research: Vehicle for Advancing Interdisciplinary Research
and Practice”, Intentional Society for Industrial Ecology 2013 conference, South Korea, June 2013