Development of Eco-factors for the European Union based on the Ecological Scarcity Method

  • Marco MuhlEmail author
  • Markus Berger
  • Matthias Finkbeiner



Weighting as an optional step in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) has recently gained momentum through increased policy requirements in the European Union. In this context, the existing Ecological Scarcity Method (ESM), published and developed in Switzerland, is one method for Distance-to-Target (DtT) weighting which is based on the ratio of desired policy targets to the current environmental situation. The purpose of this study is the application of the ESM to the European Union (EU) as well as its application in a case study.


Based on the ESM, a baseline set of eco-factors was determined, including weighting factors for a broad set of substances and resource uses based on the current environmental situation and policy targets of the EU. This includes data collection for a wide range of emissions and resource uses, as well as the identification of corresponding binding and non-binding policy targets. In addition to the baseline set, two other sets, considering the short-term and binding character of targets, were compiled for a sensitivity analysis. By applying all sets to the current European environmental situation, a comparative case study was conducted.

Results and discussion

A baseline set including eco-factors for various emissions and resource uses for a total of 11 environmental issues was developed. The application of this baseline set to the current environmental situation of the EU showed a high relative importance of climate change (28%) and main air pollutants (30%) in the aggregated results. The sensitivity analysis demonstrated that if only short-term or binding targets are considered, weighting results in comparison to the baseline set are 43 to 60% lower, respectively. The main reasons for this shift are less restrictive reduction targets (e.g., climate targets) from a short-term perspective or non-existing binding targets.


The ESM was transferred to the EU as a DtT weighting method. The presented eco-factors take into account long-term targets, which could make it a meaningful method for decision-makers promoting forward-looking actions in the EU. Nonetheless, it was not possible to cover all substances (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus inputs into surface waters and soil, heavy metals and pesticides in soil, mineral primary resources, and radioactive waste) due to the lack of quantitative policy targets and current emission data. Such missing substances or environmental issues should be integrated in the development of future methodologies.


LCIA Distance to target Weighting Normalization Policy targets Ecological scarcity method 



We would like to thank the Daimler AG for its support in the development of Eco-factors for the European Union based on the Ecological Scarcity Method. We also would like to express our gratitude to Rolf Frischknecht for his contributions to this research. The authors thank the valuable comments and suggestions of the two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1577_MOESM1_ESM.docx (196 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 195 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chair of Sustainable Engineering, Department of Environmental TechnologyTechnische Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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