Comparing the sustainability of using a non-renewable oil based material in an absorbent hygiene product with that of using a renewable wood based material
Conference poster, 2009
The WooDi project – the Wood based Diaper, is a research collaboration between industry and university. The goal of the project is to make a new diaper that is more sustainable than today’s product, by replacing non-renewable North Sea oil based materials in the diaper with a renewable material based on wood from the Nordic countries. This calls for a way to compare the sustainability associated with using the different raw materials.
Comparisons of the implications of using crude oil and biomass resources have so far mainly been made for fuels used in transportation. The available literature assessing the use of fossil fuels versus bio-fuels focuses primarily on greenhouse gas emissions, often referred to as the carbon footprint . It does not include, e.g., effects on ecosystem quality, employment, economy, etc. The increased use of bio-fuels for transportation is discussed in relation to food and feed grain prices, as well as negative environmental impacts arising from deforestation and land conversion, as food and fuel compete for scarce land resources [2, 3].
Some life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) weighting methods include resource use, but are generally based on only one or a few parameters. One example is the monetary values used by the environmental priority strategies (EPS) method , which involves a weighting for renewable and non-renewable resources based on the cost of producing an equivalent from renewable resources.
For forestry there are several voluntary sustainable forest management (SFM) systems, e.g., Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) scheme. Requirements within such systems include a broader set of aspects than greenhouse gas emissions or available LCIA weighting methods. The SFM laboratory  suggests eight different sustainability criteria such as the maintenance of ecosystem health and vitality; cultural, social and spiritual needs and values and maintenance of the forests’ contribution to global carbon cycles. No comparable sustainable management criteria have been found for fossil oil extraction and use, other than an initiative with recommendations on how to include biodiversity into strategies for oil and gas development .
Consequently, there exists no readily available method for comparing the sustainability of using North Sea oil and Nordic wood as raw materials. The methods mentioned above can be a starting point but need to be developed further. The method development work carried out in the WooDi project should also be useful for other sustainability assessments comparing forest and fossil resources.
1. Johnson, E. Biofuel vs petrofuel carbon footprints: it’s about the land, in SETAC Europe 14th LCA Case Study Symposium. 2007. Göteborg.
2. Early, J. and A. McKeown, Smart Choices for Biofuels. 2009, Sierra Club, Worldwatch Institute, Washington.
3. Banse, M., P. Nowicki, and H.v. Meijl, Why are current world food prices so high? 2008, LEI Wageningen UR, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
4. Steen, B., A systematic approach to environmental priority strategies in product development (EPS). Version 2000 - General System Characteristics, 1999.
5. Sustainable forest management - indicator knowledge base. [cited 6th April 2009]. Available from: www.sfmindicators.org.
6. Integrating Biodiversity Conservation into Oil & Gas Development, 2003.
Financial support from Vinnova, SCA Hygiene Products AB and Södra Cell AB is greatly appreciated.