Integrating life cycle assessment and material flow cost accounting to account for resource productivity and economic-environmental performance

  • Ramona Rieckhof
  • Edeltraud Guenther



This study contributes to measuring the interactions between human technological activities and the natural environment in an integrative approach to support organisations and supply chain partners in their efforts to increase the resource productivity and economic-environmental performance of their product systems. We expand existing knowledge on the underlying methodological facets of the integrative use of two standardised instruments. We further guide the discussion with a case study and depict areas for future research.


We discuss the integration of life cycle assessment and material flow cost accounting to examine resource inputs and product and non-product outputs alongside environmental impacts and costs. Life cycle assessment is a non-financial instrument to identify hotspots of resource use and associated environmental burdens, while material flow cost accounting is a powerful financial instrument used to monetise resource use (in)efficiencies and demonstrate the resources bound in product and non-product output. Both are valuable life cycle management instruments to measure and control strategic themes related to improvement measures and investment decisions and support communication between the different decision-makers involved. We highlight the methodological facets of this integrative assessment based on a holistic single case study in order to share the lessons learned.

Results and discussion

Our case study illustrates a typical case where manufacturing costs and environmental burdens are primarily borne by the product, whereas a substantial portion of the resources also flows into by-products and non-products. We highlight the relevance of a shared set of rules and assumptions for systems, functions, system boundaries, inventories, and allocation rules which avoid an undesired interfusion of the physical and monetary dimensions to support a more systematic, consistent, and comparable modelling of integrated life cycle assessment and material flow cost accounting. However, researchers and practitioners should bear in mind the benefits and limitations of such integrated assessments, such as methodological choice, which also affect the decisive direction of the results.


The present study expands existing knowledge on the methodological facets of combining life cycle assessment and material flow cost accounting. By contrasting the hotspots of resource use as well as associated costs and environmental burdens, the instruments jointly provide valuable insights to identify integrated resource saving as well as economic and environmental improvement potentials for present and future business operations. Future research is needed in the following arenas: further development of the environmental impact indicators to capture the temporal and geographical occurrence of impacts; updating allocation criteria for integrated assessments in standards and guidelines; improving the visualisation of revenues in Sankey diagrams, the flow-based classification in the modelling software, as well as cost accounting and information systems; formalisation of indicators in management processes to generate resource efficiency strategies and goals; and finally, assessment of circular economy strategies and negative effects.


Economic-environmental improvement potentials Environmental aspects Internalised cost drivers Life cycle management Product and non-product output Resource use aspects 



The authors thank a European manufacturer of decorative surfaces, in particular their chief executive officer, engineering department, and employees at the plant level, for their comprehensive technical support, data provision, and validation. Ramona Rieckhof further acknowledges the support by the young researcher fellowship program of the Technische Universitaet Dresden.


A European manufacturer of decorative surfaces supported this work.

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1447_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (31 kb)
Table S1 (XLSX 31.2 kb)
11367_2018_1447_MOESM2_ESM.docx (20 kb)
Table S2 (DOCX 20 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Business and Economics, Chair of Environmental Management and AccountingTechnische Universitaet DresdenDresdenGermany

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