Assessment of life cycle impacts on ecosystem services: promise, problems and prospects

B. Othoniel, B. Rugani, R. Heijungs, E. Benetto, C.A.A.M. Withagen

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The analysis of ecosystem services (ES) is becoming a key-factor to implement policies on sustainable technologies. Accordingly, life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods are more and more oriented toward the development of harmonized characterization models to address impacts on ES. However, such efforts are relatively recent and have not reached full consensus yet. We investigate here on the transdisciplinary pillars related to the modeling of LCIA on ES by conducting a critical review and comparison of the state-of-the-art in both LCIA and ES domains. We observe that current LCIA practices to assess impacts on "ES provision" suffer from incompleteness in modeling the cause-effect chains; the multifunctionality of ecosystems is omitted; and the "flow" nature of ES is not considered. Furthermore, ES modeling in LCIA is limited by its static calculation framework, and the valuation of ES also experiences some limitations. The conceptualization of land use (changes) as the main impact driver on ES, and the corresponding approaches to retrieve characterization factors, eventually embody several methodological shortcomings, such as the lack of time-dependency and interrelationships between elements in the cause-effect chains. We conclude that future LCIA modeling of ES could benefit from the harmonization with existing integrated multiscale dynamic integrated approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1077-1092
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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