How methodological choices affect LCA climate impact results: the case of structural timber

  • Michele De RosaEmail author
  • Massimo Pizzol
  • Jannick Schmidt



Life cycle assessment (LCA) is broadly applied to assess the environmental impact of products through their life cycle. LCA of bio-based products is particularly challenging due to the uncertainties in modeling the natural biomass production process. While uncertainties related to inventory data are often addressed in LCA by performing sensitivity analyses, the sensitivity of results to LCA methodologies chosen is seldom addressed. This work investigates the influence of common methodological choices on LCA climate impact results of forestry products.


Performing a consequential LCA, the study compares results obtained through different choices concerning four methodological aspects: the modeling of land use change effects, the choice of climate metric for impact assessment, the choice of time horizon applied, and the completeness of the forest carbon stock modeled. Eight scenarios were tested, applied to the same case study to ensure the full comparability of the results. A dynamic life cycle inventory of annual forest biomass production and degradation was obtained through a methodology accounting dynamically for the annual carbon fluxes in a forest plot.

Results and discussion

The results obtained for the eight scenarios showed a great variability of the estimated climate effect, ranging from a net carbon sequestration of 24 kg CO2 equivalents to a net carbon emission of 3220 kg CO2 equivalents, though seven out of eight scenarios resulted in a net carbon emission. The results are particularly sensitive to the choice of time horizon, especially when combined with the choice of static or dynamic climate indicator and different climate metrics as GWP and GTP. The case study showed a lower variability of results to the choice of forest carbon stock compared to the effect of the other tested assumptions.


LCA results of forestry products were highly sensitive to the tested methodological choices. A description and motivation of these choices is required for a clear and critical interpretation of the results. The choice of climate indicator and TH applied depends on the goal and scope of the study and strongly affects the contribution to climate impact results of all LCA processes. Those choices need to be carefully discussed and should be in accordance with the goal of the study, since different climate metric and TH have distinct interpretations. The interpretation of different climate indicators and their time horizons should be linked with the considered endpoints of climate change.


Carbon footprint Forest carbon cycle Forestry Indirect land use change Life cycle assessment 



This work was funded by the Aarhus University through the project “Environmental and socioeconomic potential of new concepts and business models for increased production and utilization of biomass from agricultural land in Denmark (ECO-ECO).” Massimo Pizzol’s contribution to this work was funded by the research grant no 1305-00030B of the Danish Strategic Research Council. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their contribution.

Supplementary material

11367_2017_1312_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


  1. Ahlgren S, Di Lucia L (2014) Indirect land use changes of biofuel production—a review of modelling efforts and policy developments in the European Union. Biotechnol Biofuels 7(1):35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brandão M (2012) Food, feed, fuel, timber or carbon sink? Towards sustainable land-use systems—a consequential life cycle approach. PhD, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of SurreyGoogle Scholar
  3. Broth A, Hoekman SK, Unnasch S (2013) A review of variability in indirect land use change assessment and modeling in biofuel policy. Environ Sci Pol 29:147–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cherubini F, Bright RM, Stromman AH (2013) Global climate impacts of forest bioenergy: what, when and how to measure? Environ Res Lett. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014049 Google Scholar
  5. Cherubini F, Peters GP, Berntsen T, Stromman AH, Hertwich E (2011) CO2 emissions from biomass combustion for bioenergy: atmospheric decay and contribution to global warming. GCB Bioenergy 3(5):413–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Coleman L, Jenkinson DS (2008) ROTHC-26.3: a model for the turnover of carbon in soil. Model description and Windows user guide. Rothamsted Research, HarpendenGoogle Scholar
  7. De Rosa M, Schmidt J, Pizzol M (2016a) A comparison of land use change models: challenges and future developments. J Clean Prod 113:183–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De Rosa M, Schmidt J, Brandão M, Pizzol M (2017) A flexible parametric model for a balanced account of forest carbon fluxes in LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22:172–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. de Sa SA, Palmer C, di Falco S (2013) Dynamics of indirect land-use change: empirical evidence from Brazil. J Environ Econ Manag 65(3):377–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dolan D, Harte A (2014) A comparison of the embodied energy and embodied carbon of a timber visitor centre in Ireland with its concrete equivalent. WCTE 2014 - World Conference on Timber Engineering, ProceedingsGoogle Scholar
  11. Ekvall T, Weidema BP (2004) System boundaries and input data in consequential life cycle inventory analysis. Int J Life Cycle Assess 9(3):161–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eriksson E, Karlsson PE, Hallberg L, Jelse K (2010) Carbon footprint of cartons in europe - carbon footprint methodology and biogenic carbon sequestration. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute Ltd., GöteborgGoogle Scholar
  13. Falk B (2009) Wood as a sustainable building material. For Prod J 59(9):6–12Google Scholar
  14. Fargione J, Hill J, Tilman D, Polasky S, Hawthorne P (2008) Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319(5867):1235–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Finnveden G, Hauschild MZ, Ekvall T, Guinee J, Heijungs R, Hellweg S, Koehler A, Pennington S, Suh S (2009) Recent developments in life cycle assessment. J Environ Manag 91(1):1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fuglestvedt JS, Berntsen TK, Godal O, Sausen R, Shine KP, Skodvin T (2003) Metrics of climate change: assessing radiative forcing and emission indices. Clim Chang 58(3):267–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gerilla GP, Teknomo K, Hokao K (2007) An environmental assessment of wood and steel reinforced concrete housing construction. Build Environ 42(7):2778–2784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ghose A, Chinga-Carrasco G (2013) Environmental aspects of Norwegian production of pulp fibres and printing paper. J Clean Prod 57:293–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gnansounou E, Dauriat A, Villegas J, Panichelli L (2009) Life cycle assessment of biofuels: energy and greenhouse gas balances. Bioresour Technol 100(21):4919–4930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Guest G, Cherubini F, Stromman AH (2013) The role of forest residues in the accounting for the global warming potential of bioenergy. GCB Bioenergy 5(4):459–466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gustavsson L, Pingoud K, Sathre R (2006) Carbon dioxide balance of wood substitution: comparing concrete- and wood-framed buildings. Mitig Adapt Strat Gl 11(3):667–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haberl H, Erb KH, Krausmann F, Gaube V, Bondeau A, Plutzar C, Gingrich S, Lucht W, Fischer-Kowalski M (2007) Quantifying and mapping the human appropriation of net primary production in earth’s terrestrial ecosystems. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104(31):12942–12947CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Helin T, Sokka L, Soimakallio S, Pingoud K, Pajula T (2013) Approaches for inclusion of forest carbon cycle in life cycle assessment—a review. GCB Bioenergy 5(5):475–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holtsmark B (2012) Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt. Clim Chang 112(2):415–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holtsmark B (2013) The outcome is in the assumptions: analyzing the effects on atmospheric CO2 levels of increased use of bioenergy from forest biomass. GCB Bioenergy 5(4):467–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Houghton JT, Jenkins GJ, Ephraums JJ (1990) Climate change. The IPCC Scientific Assessment, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  27. IEA (2011) Global wood pellet industry market and trade study. IEA Bioenergy Google Scholar
  28. ISO/TS-14067 (2013) Greenhouse gases—carbon footprint of products—requirements and guidelines for quantification and communication. International Standard, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  29. Jonker JGG, Junginger M, Faaij A (2014) Carbon payback period and carbon offset parity point of wood pellet production in the South-eastern United States. GCB Bioenergy 6(4):371–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kim S, Dale BE (2011) Indirect land use change for biofuels: testing predictions and improving analytical methodologies. Biomass Bioenergy 35(7):3235–3240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kirschbaum MUF (2014) Climate-change impact potentials as an alternative to global warming potentials. Environ Res Lett 9(3). doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/3/034014
  32. Klein D, Wolf C, Schulz C, Weber-Blaschke G (2015) 20 years of life cycle assessment (LCA) in the forestry sector: state of the art and a methodical proposal for the LCA of forest production. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20(4):556–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kløverpris JH, Mueller S (2013) Baseline time accounting: considering global land use dynamics when estimating the climate impact of indirect land use change caused by biofuels. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18(2):319–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Le Quéré C, Andres RJ, Boden T, Conway T, Houghton RA, House JI, Marland G, Peters GP, van der Werf G, Ahlström A, Andrew RM, Bopp L, Canadell JG, Ciais P, Doney SC, Enright C, Friedlingstein P, Huntingford C, Jain AK, Jourdain C, Kato E, Keeling RF, Klein Goldewijk K, Levis S, Levy P, Lomas M, Poulter M, Raupach MR, Schwinger J, Sitch S, Stocker BD, Viovy N, Zaehle S, Zeng N (2012) The global carbon budget 1959–2011. Earth Syst Sci Data 5:1107–1157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Levasseur A, Lesage P, Margni M, Deschenes L, Samson R (2010) Considering time in LCA: dynamic LCA and its application to global warming impact assessments. Environ Sci Technol 44(8):3169–3174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Marshall E, Caswell M, Malcolm S, Motamed M, Hrubovcak J, Jones C, Nickerson C (2011) Measuring the indirect land-use change associated with increased biofuel feedstock production: a review of modeling efforts. In Report to Congress: United States Department of AgricultureGoogle Scholar
  37. Newell JP, Vos RO (2012) Accounting for forest carbon pool dynamics in product carbon footprints: challenges and opportunities. Environ Impact Assess 37:23–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. NWIF (2015) Environmental product declaration. Structural timber of spruce and pine. Norwegian Wood Industry Federation, OsloGoogle Scholar
  39. PAS2050 (2011) Specification for the assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services. British Standard (BSI)Google Scholar
  40. Pawelzik P, Carus M, Hotchkiss J, Narayan R, Selke S, Wellisch M, Weiss WB, Patel MK (2013) Critical aspects in the life cycle assessment (LCA) of bio-based materials - reviewing methodologies and deriving recommendations. Resour Conserv Recycl 73:211–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Petersen BM, Trydeman Knudsen M, Hermansen JE, Halberg N (2013) An approach to include soil carbon changes in life cycle assessments. J Clean Prod 52:217–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pingoud K, Ekholm T, Savolainen I (2012) Global warming potential factors and warming payback time as climate indicators of forest biomass use. Mitig Adapt Strat Gl 17(4):369–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Reinhard J, Weidema B, Schmidt J (2010) Identifying the marginal supply of wood pulp. Dübendorf, Switzerland. Aalborg, Denmark.: 2.-0 LCA ConsultantsGoogle Scholar
  44. Schmidt JH, Weidema B, Brandão M (2015) A framework for modelling indirect land use changes in life cycle assessment. J Clean Prod 99:230–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shine KP, Fuglestvedt JS, Hailemariam K, Stuber N (2005) Alternatives to the global warming potential for comparing climate impacts of emissions of greenhouse gases. Clim Chang 68(3):281–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smith I, Snow MA (2008) Timber: an ancient construction material with a bright future. For Chron 84(4):504–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Statistic Sweden (2016) Forest statistics from the Swedish national forest inventory: Last accessed: January 2016
  48. Tittmann P, Yeh S (2013) A framework for assessing the life cycle greenhouse gas benefits of Forest bioenergy and biofuel in an era of Forest carbon management. J Sustainable For 32(1–2):108–129Google Scholar
  49. UNECE-FAO (2010) Forest Product Conversion Factor for the UNECE region. In: Timber and Discussion Paper, edited by United Nation Publication. Geneva: United Nations Economic Commission – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsGoogle Scholar
  50. UNFCCC (2007) Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations framework convention on climate change. United Nations Google Scholar
  51. Warner E, Zhang Y, Inman D, Heath G (2014) Challenges in the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuel-induced global land-use change. Biofuels Bioprod Biorefin 8(1):114–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Weidema B (2001) Avoiding co-product allocation in life-cycle assessment. J Ind Ecol 4(3):11–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Weidema B, Ekvall T, Heijungs R (2009) Guidelines for application of deepened and broadened LCA. Deliverable D18 of work package 5 of the CALCAS project: Co-ordination Action for innovation in Life-Cycle Analysis for Sustainability (CALCAS) projectGoogle Scholar
  54. Weidema B, Brandao M (2015) Ethical perspectives on planetary boundaries and LCIA." SETAC Europe 25th Annual Meeting, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  55. Werner F, Richter K (2007) Wooden building products in comparative LCA: a literature review. Int J Life Cycle Assess 12(7):470–479Google Scholar
  56. Wicke B, Verweij P, Van Meijl H, Van Vuuren DP, Faaij APC (2012) Indirect land use change: review of existing models and strategies for mitigation. Biofuels 3(1):87–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Bribián IZ, Capilla AV, Usón AA (2011) Life cycle assessment of building materials: comparative analysis of energy and environmental impacts and evaluation of the eco-efficiency improvement potential. Build Environ 46(5):1133–1140CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AgroecologyAarhus UniversityTjeleDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Development and PlanningAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark

Personalised recommendations