The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

, Volume 23, Issue 10, pp 1995–2006 | Cite as

Ecosystem quality in LCIA: status quo, harmonization, and suggestions for the way forward

  • John S. Woods
  • Mattia Damiani
  • Peter Fantke
  • Andrew D. Henderson
  • John M. Johnston
  • Jane Bare
  • Serenella Sala
  • Danielle Maia de Souza
  • Stephan Pfister
  • Leo Posthuma
  • Ralph K. Rosenbaum
  • Francesca Verones



Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) results are used to assess potential environmental impacts of different products and services. As part of the UNEP-SETAC life cycle initiative flagship project that aims to harmonize indicators of potential environmental impacts, we provide a consensus viewpoint and recommendations for future developments in LCIA related to the ecosystem quality area of protection (AoP). Through our recommendations, we aim to encourage LCIA developments that improve the usefulness and global acceptability of LCIA results.


We analyze current ecosystem quality metrics and provide recommendations to the LCIA research community for achieving further developments towards comparable and more ecologically relevant metrics addressing ecosystem quality.

Results and discussion

We recommend that LCIA development for ecosystem quality should tend towards species-richness-related metrics, with efforts made towards improved inclusion of ecosystem complexity. Impact indicators—which result from a range of modeling approaches that differ, for example, according to spatial and temporal scale, taxonomic coverage, and whether the indicator produces a relative or absolute measure of loss—should be framed to facilitate their final expression in a single, aggregated metric. This would also improve comparability with other LCIA damage-level indicators. Furthermore, to allow for a broader inclusion of ecosystem quality perspectives, the development of an additional indicator related to ecosystem function is recommended. Having two complementary metrics would give a broader coverage of ecosystem attributes while remaining simple enough to enable an intuitive interpretation of the results.


We call for the LCIA research community to make progress towards enabling harmonization of damage-level indicators within the ecosystem quality AoP and, further, to improve the ecological relevance of impact indicators.


Biodiversity Damage-level Endpoint Functions Harmonization LCIA Species UNEP-SETAC 


Compliance with ethical standards


This paper has been reviewed in accordance with Agency policy and approved for publication. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • John S. Woods
    • 1
  • Mattia Damiani
    • 2
  • Peter Fantke
    • 3
  • Andrew D. Henderson
    • 4
    • 5
  • John M. Johnston
    • 6
  • Jane Bare
    • 7
  • Serenella Sala
    • 8
  • Danielle Maia de Souza
    • 9
  • Stephan Pfister
    • 10
  • Leo Posthuma
    • 11
    • 12
  • Ralph K. Rosenbaum
    • 2
  • Francesca Verones
    • 1
  1. 1.Industrial Ecology ProgrammeNorwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)TrondheimNorway
  2. 2.ITAP, Irstea, Montpellier SupAgro, Univ MontpellierELSA Research Group and ELSA-PACT Industrial ChairMontpellierFrance
  3. 3.Division for Quantitative Sustainability Assessment, Department of Management EngineeringTechnical University of DenmarkKgs. LyngbyDenmark
  4. 4.University of Texas School of Public HealthAustinUSA
  5. 5.Noblis, Inc.San AntonioUSA
  6. 6.US EPA, Office of Research and DevelopmentNational Exposure Research LaboratoryAthensUSA
  7. 7.US EPA, Office of Research and DevelopmentNational Risk Management Research LaboratoryCincinnatiUSA
  8. 8.European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Directorate D: Sustainable Resource, Bioeconomy unitIspraItaly
  9. 9.Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional ScienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  10. 10.ETH ZurichInstitute of Environmental EngineeringZürichSwitzerland
  11. 11.RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment)Centre for Sustainability, Environment and HealthBilthoventhe Netherlands
  12. 12.Department of Environmental Science, Institute for Water and Wetland ResearchRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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