Weighing the impacts of our goods and services on the environment and climate: how to measure?
The car we buy is made out of thousands of components, which are produced using different types of materials. These materials need to be sourced from different places, sent to production facilities and assembled. Once the car is dismissed, the components need to be taken care of by either reusing, recycling or discarding them. The same reasoning applies to basically all the products and services we use in our daily lives. The way we do so impacts our health, the ecosystem and the world’s resources. Assessing the overall impact of these products and services is the goal of this research project, which is part of the Global Guidance for the Life Cycle Assessment Indicators and Methods (GLAM) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
- 2020 - 2024
- Marco Cinelli
- Life Cycle Initiative
- United Nations Environment Programme
- University of Michigan
- Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
- Denmark's Technical University (DTU)
The GLAM project is implemented under the auspices of the Life Cycle Initiative of the UNEP. This programme focuses on supporting the development of methods and tools to assess the environmental impacts of products and services from a life cycle perspective, in other words, by accounting for all the stages that characterise the life of a product or service (e.g., raw materials extraction, production, transport, use, end of life). The GLAM project aims at developing a methodology for assessing these impacts by looking at the global implications of human activities. This methodology could then be used by industrial partners for assessing the environmental impacts of any product (e.g., a car, a fridge, a medical device) and by policy makers to understand the environmental impacts of policies.
This project requires the development of global inventories of resources to understand how many are needed to produce all the goods and services we have. It also involves the understanding of what negative and positive environmental impacts each of these uses of resources have on human health and the ecosystem. It moreover requires the identification of priorities of the global population in terms of targets of protection; this could be human health, ecosystem quality, natural resources and ecosystem services. The methodology is to assess the impacts of goods and services over their entire supply chain and life cycle of these so-called ‘Areas of Protection’.
This project involves reviewing weighing methods as used in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the UNEP. Within the LUC’s Global Challenge of Sustainability the objectives of this research project entail the development of a software for recommending weighing methods tailored to LCA studies, as well as calculating priorities (i.e. weights) assigned to different environmental impacts on a global scale. In the weighing subtask researcher Marco Cinelli co-leads thirty-five organisations stemming from research, industry, and government. The GLAM project will also identify the priorities that citizens from many countries assign to each of the Areas of Protection. The outcomes of this research project will be published on the Life Cycle Initiative page of UNEP.