Human and Ecological Life Cycle Tools for the Integrated Assessment of Systems (HELIAS)

Research paper by Reinout Heijungs, René Kleijn, Ester van der Voet, Arjan de Koning, Lauran van Oers, Ayman Elshkaki, Ruben Huele, Gjalt Huppes, Sangwon Suh, Anneke Wegener Sleeswijk

Indexed on: 09 Dec '05Published on: 09 Dec '05Published in: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1065/lca2006.04.008 CML has contributed to the development of life cycle decision support tools, particularly Substance / Material Flow Analysis (SFA respectively MFA) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Ever since these tools emerged there have been discussions on how these tools relate to each other, and how they relate to more traditional tools. Remarkably little, however, has been published on these relationships from an empirical side: which combinations of tools have actually been used, and what is the added value of combining tools in practical case studies. In this paper, we report on CML's experience in this field by presenting a number of case studies with their related research questions, for which different tools were deployed. Three case studies are discussed: 1) Waste water treatment: various options for waste water treatment have been assessed on their eco-efficiency, using SFA to comment on the influence of these options on the flows of certain substances in the water system of a geographical area and a combination of LCA and life cycle costing (LCC) to assess the life-cycle impacts and costs of these options; 2) Prioritization of environmental policy measures: A methodology has been developed to prioritize environmental policy measures and investments within companies based on both the environmental impacts and the costs of these measures; and 3) Environmental weighting of materials: to add an environmental dimension to standard MFA accounts, materials were weighted with cradle-to-grave impact factors based on LCA data and impact assessment factors. For each of these cases, the research questions at stake, the tools applied, the results and the added value, limitations and problems of combining the tools are reported. and Perspective. Based on these experiences, it is concluded that using several tools to address a complicated problem is not only a theoretical proposal, but also something that has been applied successfully in a variety of practical situations. Furthermore, using several tools in combination does not necessarily lead to an increased information supply to decisionmakers. Instead, it may contribute to the comprehensibility and ease of interpretation of the information that would have been provided by using a single tool. Finally, it is concluded that there is not one generally valid protocol for which tools to use for which question. The essential idea of using a combination of tools is exactly the fact that research questions are not simple by nature and cannot be generalized into protocols.