Linking land use and ecosystem services. Development of a Life Cycle Impact Assessment method to improve evaluation of biobased products
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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a widely used standardized method to assess all environmental impacts of products or processes. However, LCA cannot fully assess the impacts of land use, which leads to an incomplete assessment of biobased products. To date, Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methods evaluate land use impacts on biodiversity and soil quality, but do not include impacts on ecosystem services. Hence, the objective of this research was to develop an LCIA method to evaluate potential impacts of different land use types on ecosystem services. Evaluation of scientific literature led to the selection of ecological integrity indicators to represent the potential of land to provide ecosystem services. The use of ecological integrity indicators and the application of the ‘matrix model’ based on quantitative data in combination with expert judgment is a new approach to assessing land use impacts. The 8 ecological integrity indicators represent the structural and functional aspects of ecosystem quality and hereby enable a more complete assessment of ecosystem quality besides biodiversity. The new land use LCIA method evaluates damage to ecological integrity and is called in short the EID method. The EID method was applied to a case study on natural fibers from forestry and several agricultural feedstocks. The EID method was compared to the ReCiPe (H) endpoint method, a state of the art LCIA method which evaluates land use impacts on biodiversity. The case study demonstrated that the EID method is able to compare land use impacts of renewable material alternatives, and different land management practices. By differentiating between different agricultural types, the method is particularly useful for assessing the trade-off between the amount of land use and the relative quality of a certain land type. This means that larger land requirements do not necessarily lead to a larger impact when a certain land type can maintain ecosystem health and thus ensure sustainable land use. This more complete assessment of land use impacts improves the comparison of biobased and fossil-based products and can therefore contribute to choosing sustainable product alternatives with lowest environmental impacts.