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Territorial Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): what exactly is it about? A proposal towards using a common terminology and a research agenda

  • Loiseau, Eléonore
  • Aissani, Lynda
  • Le Féon, Samuel
  • Laurent, Faustine
  • Cerceau, Juliette
  • Sala, Serenella
  • Roux, Philippe
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2018
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Evaluating holistically environmental impacts of land planning policies implies to take into account several aspects, intimately related both to territorial features and to production-consumption patterns, which have a specific local character and a potential impact at different scales. To address these chal- lenges, life cycle thinking and assessment methods are crucial. Indeed, beyond the traditional application of Life Cycle Assessment as a product-oriented methodology, a new LCA-based approach called "terri- torial LCA" has gradually emerged to assess geographically or administratively defined systems. This paper aims to analyze how this new LCA-based approach differs from conventional LCA, highlighting main differences and added values. Territorial LCAs can be divided into two main approaches, i.e., i) type A, which focuses on the assessment of a specific activity or supply chain anchored in a given territory, and ii) type B, which attempts to assess all production and consumption activities located in a territory, including all environmental pressures embodied in trade flows with other territories. These two ap- proaches are described and compared according to the four LCA phases to highlight differences and similarities with conventional LCA. This comparison is based on a detailed case study analysis for each territorial LCA type and it shows that most of the differences are in the goal and scope definition, especially for the territorial LCA of type B where the functional unit definition is no more the starting point of the assessment. Concerning territorial LCA of type A, there are no main divergences with conventional LCA as territorial contextualization already exists in some LCA applications, even if not systematically applied. Improvements in the application may entail a comprehensive contextualization of the four LCA phases, developing the synergies with the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) tools. Other specific challenges affecting both type A and B are related to i) territorial unique intrinsic multi- functionality determined by all human activities located within its boundaries, ii) specific territorial characteristics (i.e., spatial variability and organization), and iii) multiscale issues and the consideration of interactions between territories.

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