How to consider soil ecosystem services in LCA

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

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Marianne Thomsen - Lecturer

Thomsen, M., Pizzol, M., Boriano, E. and Termansen, M.
Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University
Frederiksborgvej 399, Postboks 358, 4000 Roskilde (DK)
tlf. 0045 8715 8602,

Following the ecosystem services approach, the conservation of functioning ecological systems are a prerequisite for long-term economic sustainability. We might develop more technologically intensive ways of producing food, cleaning water, adapting to climate change, but we cannot exclude ourselves from being exposed to environmental polluted or otherwise degraded ecosystems. Soil ecosystem services are a particularly illustrative example of supporting services that underpin the functioning of other services. Therefore, it is important to assess changes in soil ecosystem services in sustainability analysis. Soil ecosystems affected by emissions and stress from human activities are neither characterized by increased pollutant concentrations, by decreased soil organic matter or loss of top soil. Well-functioning soil ecosystems absorb and remove contaminants and maintain soil formation processes through highly diverse and multifunctional soil biological systems.
To support sustainable development, life cycle analysis could be improved by considering eco-industrial systems as functional units within a territorial context. This would allow the analysis to include preservation of ecosystems and restoration efforts. We propose that this could be achieved by intelligent resource exchange and management systems, accounting for the natural environments providing ecosystem services sustaining human-wellbeing. Development of such methodologies would address sustainable management practices of restoring and maintaining soil ecosystem health in terms of suitability for use (i.e. the provision of ecosystem services).
Two land use scenarios are presented; 1) urban soil within the build-up area and 2) agricultural land use.
Sustainability goals are 1) healthy and non-polluted soils in recreational parks and playgrounds 2) reversal of the decline in soil organic matter within agro-ecosystems.
The two case studies may be used in future LCIA measuring the following end points 1) avoided cost of human health impacts from lead exposure from existing waste management system measured as loss of intelligence and life-time earnings and 2) improved soil fertility measured in terms of increased yields by use of a soil health improving products derived from sewage sludge.

30 Nov 20112 Dec 2011

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