Region-Specific Consumption-Based Environmental Impact: Hotspot Identification Using Hybrid MFA-LCA
Doctoral thesis, 2021

The environmental impacts caused by rising consumption are pressing problems for society today. Decision makers are tasked with setting and meeting environmental targets to ensure that future generations have access to the same quality of resources (like clean water and air) that we have today. Limiting factors like time and funding exacerbate the challenge of meeting these goals. In this thesis, city- and region-specific consumption data are analyzed to identify consumption-based impact hotspots, i.e. product categories with high environmental impact, and to show how this data is relevant for policy development, prioritization, and assessment. Many studies primarily look at climate change as the sole impact indicator while multiple factors can and do affect the environment. To fill this gap, material flow analysis (MFA), which provides data on the quantities of products consumed in a region, is combined with life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify the environmental impact of a region’s consumption. Five environmental indicators are evaluated: global warming potential (climate change), eutrophication potential, acidification potential, photochemical ozone formation potential, and resource depletion. Consumption-based environmental impact results are used to identify hotspots and prioritize existing environmental measures. The results indicate that cities and regions have distinct consumption profiles and that local consumption data is relevant for identifying which products should be addressed in order to maximize the environmental benefit. Existing environmental measures for the city of Gothenburg, Sweden, are assessed for effectiveness in reaching environmental targets.

sustainable consumption

environmental impact

hotspot analysis

industrial ecology

Sustainable Development Goals

urban metabolism

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Opponent: Professor Gang Liu, Department of Green Technology, University of Southern Denmark.

Author

Alexandra Lavers Westin

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Water Environment Technology

Today, Swedes’ consumption leads to emissions of about 10 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per person. Many cities and regions want to reduce their consumption-based impact in order to achieve climate targets like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. To reach these ambitious goals, consumption needs to change. But how can decision makers know which areas of consumption should be prioritized to reach their environmental goals most effectively?
In this thesis, I describe a method to quantify the environmental impact of consumption and identify target products, what I call “hotspots”. By quantifying all of the products transported in and out of a region using a tool called material flow analysis, we can know how much we are consuming in a specific place. Then, consumed quantities of products are connected to another tool called life cycle assessment. Life cycle assessment estimates the environmental impact of a product based on the emissions and other environmental impacts through all stages of its existence – the resource extraction, production, transport, use, and end-of-life.  This way, we can see which products that we consume have the greatest environmental impact. Then, I estimate how changing consumption of hotspots based on policies can help us reach environmental goals. We will need to change our consumption habits to achieve sustainability and by using data, we can see what changes make the biggest difference.

The MEI method - Combining material flow analysis and life cycle assessment for evaluating effectiveness and potentials of municipal measures to reach environmental targets

Formas, 2015-01-01 -- 2018-12-31.

Mistra Urban Futures, 2015-01-01 -- 2020-06-30.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)

Subject Categories

Environmental Analysis and Construction Information Technology

ISBN

978-91-7905-455-7

Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4922

Publisher

Chalmers

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Online

Opponent: Professor Gang Liu, Department of Green Technology, University of Southern Denmark.

More information

Latest update

3/4/2021 2