The sustainability dictionary
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Abiotic resources are natural resources such as iron ore and crude oil that are considered non-living, as well as energy sources such as wind and running water. Depletion of abiotic resources is one of the Impact Categories that should be taken into account when making an LCA and is one of the most discussed Impact Categories.
The acidification of soil and water is the result of a surplus of acidifying substances. These acidifying substances, mainly sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia, end up in the soil via emissions through air. Acidification is bad for many plant species because important nutrients such as potassium, calcium and magnesium are washed away, which make plants susceptible to diseases. Nutrients that are still in the soil are also more difficult to absorb because rinsed out aluminum particles affect the very fine hair roots of plants. Another consequence of an ‘acidified’ soil is that there is an excess of nitrogen present in the soil. Plant species that thrive in nitrogen-poor soils, such as heathlands, are displaced by fast-growing plant species, such as nettles and blackberries, which require more nitrogen. As a result, biodiversity decreases.
Allocation is the distribution of the input or output flows of a process (or product system) between the investigated product system and one or more other product systems. Distributions that can be made in accordance with ISO 14040 are: distributions based on physical connections, economic distributions and distributions based on factors such as weight, volume, energy, etc.
The combustion, fermentation or gasification of biomass results in bioenergy. When producing bioenergy, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Of course, CO2 is also released when fossil resources are burned, so what’s the difference? This lies in the origin of the CO2 that is released. While fossil resources release carbon dioxide that has been locked up underground for millions of years, the production of bioenergy releases CO2 that was absorbed through photosynthesis. CO2 + H2O + sunlight = biomass, remember? Biogenic carbon forms the short carbon cycle, with a set time span of 100 years. This means that it is assumed that within 100 years the carbon will be taken up by trees and plants, and is released again when the biomass ends up in an incinerator when it gets thrown away.
Biomass refers to everything that has an organic origin and is therefore produced by organisms (plants and animals), such as wood. In other words, biomass is any kind of organic material that has absorbed sunlight and then stored it in the form of energy, i.e. through photosynthesis. Raw materials that have been transformed through geological processes, for example coal or natural gas, are not considered biomass. Bioenergy can be produced by burning, fermenting or gasifying biomass. This can be biomass in the form of unprocessed/raw biomass, but burning biofuel also results in bioenergy. A major advantage of bioenergy is that it can be used as an alternative to energy produced by fossil raw materials.
A by-product is a product that is unintentionally created in a production process, but has a useful and valuable application. In the sugar beet industry, for example, beet pulp and molasses are produced as by-products. These can be used for animal feed, fertilizer, or as raw material for the production of alcohol. Using by-products ensures that a larger proportion of the original raw materials is used, which ultimately results in less waste. Since these by-products have a value, part of the environmental impact of the production process in which the by-products are created is also allocated in an LCA. This is done through allocation.
When a carbon footprint is made of a product, company, or organization, the amount of CO2 emissions (or reductions) taking place are mapped. When making a carbon footprint, there are different emissions to distinguish. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol has grouped these emissions into different scope emissions. A distinction is made between direct CO2 emissions (scope 1) when for example diesel is burned at your production facility. Your own indirect CO2 emissions (scope 2) arising from generating the electricity that you use. And scope 3, which includes all other, indirect CO2 emissions, such as the transport of required raw materials and purchased raw materials.
Characterization Factors are used to calculate the quantity of an Impact Category Indicator to match it with a functional unit. A characterization factor is applied to convert an analysis result from a Lifecycle Inventory Analysis (LCI) to the common unit (ISO 14040).
This is a model that describes a relationship between a Lifecycle Inventory Analysis (LCI) result and its subsequent Impact(s) as represented by the Impact category endpoint(s).
Climate change, who hasn’t heard of it? It is a comprehensive understanding of the consequences of global warming. The earth is warming up due to, what you probably already know, the rapidly increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In August 2021, a new report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is an organization established by the United Nations to research and evaluate the risks of climate change. Their most recent research report outlines some key conclusions:
- It is a fact that the vast majority of global warming is due to humans.
- Climate change due to global warming has already caused many problems. Climate change is most noticeable and observable through the increase in, especially regional, weather extremes.
- The limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise will already be reached in about 10 years, where previously 20 to 30 years were taken into account. This once again emphasizes the need to reduce our environmental impact!
Originally, an LCA is a scientific methodology to quantify the environmental impact of a product or service. But already in 1969 Coca-Cola was the first company that showed a LCA could also have a commercial benefit. Back then Coca Cola only produced classic glass bottles. Mainly driven by economic reasons, Coca-Cola was exploring other materials for their packaging, in order to reduce material and energy use and thus reduce costs. Now we are all familiar with aluminum cans and plastic bottles.
The philosophy behind Cradle-to-Cradle is that all materials used in a product can be usefully used in another product. The difference with conventional reuse is that there is no loss of quality and therefore no by-products/waste. A frequently used term in the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy is “waste equals food”.
Cradle-to-Gate refers to a system boundary that does not encompass the entire lifecycle of a product, but only part of it. Namely, from raw material extraction (cradle) to the factory gate. The use and end-of-life phases are therefore not included.
Cradle-to-Grave has a system boundary of the entire life cycle of a product. From the extraction of raw materials to the end of the product’s lifespan, including the use phase.
Specification of the amount of material or energy flow, or the level of environmental significance associated with unit processes or product systems to be excluded from a study. (ISO 2006).
Dataset (LCI or LCIA dataset)
A document or file containing the life cycle information of a specific product or other references (e.g. location, process), containing metadata and a quantitative life cycle inventory and/or life cycle impact assessment data. When making an LCA, it is important to check the quality of the data. To increase the robustness of an LCA outcome (the environmental impact of a product, company, or organization), the aim is always to use supplier-specific data. In the event that no supplier-specific data is available or can be requested, the National Environmental Database (NMD) or the Ecoinvent database is used.
Distance-to-target method (DTT method)
This is a weighting method that weights impacts by the ratio of the current level of each impact and the target level for that impact.
Downcycling is a term from the world of recycling. When a product is recycled, but no longer has the quality or purity of the original product, the process of recycling is called downcycling. The opposite of downcycling is upcycling. This is the process in which the quality of raw material increases when it is recycled.
Ecochain is a sustainability platform that connects organizations worldwide. The company has developed different LCA tools (Ecochain and Mobius) that make it possible for companies and organizations to gain real-time insight into their impact on the environment. When Hedgehog Company makes an LCA of your product, company, or organization, we also use these tools!