Eco-LCA Adds Ecosystem Services to Life Cycle Assessment

COLUMBUS, OH — A new life cycle assessment (LCA) tool developed by the Ohio State University Center for Resilience brings a new dimension to LCA by taking into account ecosystem services like soil erosion, pollination, flood prevention and cropland.

Eco-LCA is a free, online tool that acts as a complement to other LCA tools by showing how different products and materials have different impacts on nature.

"Typically most LCAs tend to focus on emissions and their impact, and they will account for some natural resources, maybe some fossil fuels, maybe some minerals," said Bhavik Bakshi, an Ohio State University professor who helped develop Eco-LCA. "But what our work and what our tool does is it also tries to account for other services that ecosystems offer."

Those services are divided into four areas: Supporting services (soil, pollination, sunlight, hydropotential, geothermal, wind), regulating services (flood protection, disease regulation, carbon sequestration), provisioning services (fuels, ores, water, timber, cropland), and cultural services (spiritual and recreational benefits).

Eco-LCA is best used to compare items, and the online tutorial provides a walkthrough for comparing paper, foam, ceramic and glass cups.

"The tool itself is going to be coarse," Bakshi said, "so it will give you a rough ballpark of how different products might compare to one another."

Eco-LCA isn't aimed at any specific type of user, he said. "It's for people who are interested in understanding the broader environmental implications of products," Bakshi said, listing off possible users as varied as industrial practitioners, consumers, researchers and policymakers.

Eco-LCA was created and is offered for free thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Plantation - CC license by Flickr user CIAT - International Center for Tropical Agricultu, Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT)