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Normalisation and weighting in life cycle assessment: quo vadis?

Abstract

Purpose

Building on the rhetoric question “quo vadis?” (literally “Where are you going?”), this article critically investigates the state of the art of normalisation and weighting approaches within life cycle assessment. It aims at identifying purposes, current practises, pros and cons, as well as research gaps in normalisation and weighting. Based on this information, the article wants to provide guidance to developers and practitioners. The underlying work was conducted under the umbrella of the UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, Task Force on Cross-Cutting issues in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA).

Methods

The empirical work consisted in (i) an online survey to investigate the perception of the LCA community regarding the scientific quality and current practice concerning normalisation and weighting; (ii) a classification followed by systematic expert-based assessment of existing methods for normalisation and weighting according to a set of five criteria: scientific robustness, documentation, coverage, uncertainty and complexity.

Results and discussion

The survey results showed that normalised results and weighting scores are perceived as relevant for decision-making, but further development is needed to improve uncertainty and robustness. The classification and systematic assessment of methods allowed for the identification of specific advantages and limitations.

Conclusions

Based on the results, recommendations are provided to practitioners that desire to apply normalisation and weighting as well as to developers of the underlying methods.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Valentina Prado, Jane Bare, Tommie Ponsioen and Anne-Marie Boulay for their contributions to the working group activities. Thanks are also due to Anders Bjørn and Viêt Cao who kindly contributed with comments and additions to the assessment matrices.

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Correspondence to Massimo Pizzol.

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Responsible editor: Jeroen Guinée

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Pizzol, M., Laurent, A., Sala, S. et al. Normalisation and weighting in life cycle assessment: quo vadis?. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22, 853–866 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1199-1

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Keywords

  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Indicators
  • Multicriteria decision analysis
  • Survey
  • Review