Biodiversity in Life Cycle Assessment

Biodiversity in Life Cycle Assessment

The international »Convention on Biological Diversity« (CBD) defines biodiversity as the diversity of species, including genetic variety within individual species, and the diversity of ecosystems. However, the term is often differently understood, since it can be described and made measurable in various ways. Against this background of unclear and imprecise definition and the still prevalent lack of methods for measuring and evaluating “biodiversity,” the project »Biodiversity in Life Cycle Assessment« serves to provide companies with instruments with which they can evaluate the impact of their actions on biodiversity.

This project, under the leadership of the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP, sets out to devise a method of depicting the effects on biodiversity within the context of Life Cycle Assessment in accordance with ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. This method, known as Biodiversity Impact Assessment, makes it possible to quantify the effects of industrial production, trade, consumption, and disposal on biodiversity and to integrate them into Life Cycle Assessment.

Project results

1) Qualitative screening (completed)

To minimize the effort involved in applying this method, a “qualitative screening” is used as the basis of an initial qualitative evaluation. This screening enables the elements of a product system to be presorted according to the relevance of their impact on biodiversity. The complexity of the subsequent Biodiversity Impact Assessment can thus be reduced.

2) Biodiversity Impact Assessment (current project)

Biodiversity Impact Assessment is part of the existing agenda for quantification of land use effects in Life Cycle Assessment (UNEP-SETAC Framework). For given land use processes, this method permits calculation of the (potential) damage to biodiversity. This damage is correlated to the productive product units of the process and can therefore be included in the LCA.

Networking and case studies

Close networking to practical applications is crucial for developing a method of evaluating biodiversity that is capable of consensus. The practicality of the indicator must therefore be ensured by an ongoing process of exchange with representatives of companies from various sectors and of nature conservation associations, and from the field of Life Cycle Assessment. The method is being tested and further developed in case studies with partners from the textile, cement, and food industries and from forestry.

This project is sponsored by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), with finding from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. The syndicate is headed by the Fraunhofer IBP and consists of scientists and enterprises from the field of environmental consulting (Prof. Rainer Luick; thinkstep; corsus – corporate sustainability; brands & values).