SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  14 April 2011
Volume 12 Issue 4

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Pellston Workshop on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Database Guidance Principles

Bruce Vigon, SETAC North America Scientific Affairs Manager; Guido Sonnemann, UNEP Programme Officer: Workshop Co-Chairs

In early February, 48 participants from 23 countries gathered in Shonan Village, southeast of Tokyo, for a Pellston workshop to develop global guidance on principles (informally to be known as the “Shonan Guidance Principles”) to create, manage, and disseminate datasets for the purpose of supporting life cycle assessments (LCA) of globally produced products and services. The vision for the workshop was to create guidance that would

  • serve as the basis for improved dataset exchangeability and interlinkages of databases worldwide,
  • increase the credibility of existing LCA data, generate more data, and enhance overall data accessibility, and
  • complement other data-related initiatives at the national or regional level, particularly those in developing countries and where more prescriptive guidance has been developed.
Workshop attendees

As products and services have become more geographically diverse in their sources of resources, manufacturing and assembly operations, usage, and final disposition, the need for LCA users to obtain data that accurately and consistently measures the resource consumption and environmental aspects of those activities has never been more acute. Providing a sound scientific basis for product stewardship in business and industry and life cycle-based policies in governments, ultimately helps to advance the sustainability of products and society’s economic activities.

To ensure the validity of the guidance, participants were selected for their technical expertise as well as geographic knowledge and their perspective in the “data supply chain.” The final mix of participants consisted of a balance of data and study providers (primarily consultants and industry associations) along with data and database users, including inter-government organizations, government, industry, non-government organizations, and academics. Here the emphasis was on development and access to datasets within databases, since there is already a set of international standards on methodology and conduct of LCAs.

Participants were organized into six topical tracks, based on responses to a series of eight stakeholder engagements held around the world over the past 18 months. Issue papers were prepared for each area and previously published information extracted into a database for use in preparing these papers and for consultation during the workshop. Topics for the work groups included the following:

  • Unit process data development—defining a data collection approach and mechanism that results in unit process datasets with the desired quality attributes and adequate documentation, specifying data modeling requirements to accurately transform raw data into life cycle inventory (LCI) datasets, and collaborating with the review and documentation group to address verification and transparency issues.
  • Aggregated process data development—defining and validating procedures and requirements for combining unit process data into multi-process datasets, specifying requirements on additional information to be provided with such datasets to users to allow determination of suitability, and collaborating with the review and documentation group to address verification and transparency issues.
  • Data review and documentation—detailed analysis of requirements and procedures for review of datasets prior to their acceptance into databases, overall management roles and responsibilities for database managers, and description, along with dataset development work groups on necessary documentation for primary data and supplemental (metadata) characteristics.
  • Adaptive LCI approaches—data demands and enhanced aspects of LCI questions accessible with non-conventional methodologies, such as input/output table-based techniques, time dynamic LCI, spatially-explicit LCI, and hybrid methods.
  • Integration and cross fertilization—identify intersecting ideas and promote creative thinking across groups, especially regarding current practices.
  • Future knowledge management—anticipating how Web 2.0 and other emerging information and knowledge management techniques could be used to produce more efficient, higher quality and increased numbers of LCI datasets as well as how such datasets link to databases and other distribution mechanisms.

All of these discussions maintained a clear user perspective with regard to their needs for data and assuring the credibility of the data. Efforts were made to define users within various organizations for purposes of tailoring the guidance as appropriate.

Summary Findings
The following section provides a high-level overview of the workshop findings based on the consensus recommendations. These summary results cannot begin to capture the breadth of discussion and careful deliberation that took place on each topic. Key recommendations or products from the workshop include the following:

  • A glossary and dictionary of principles were created to provide a consistent basis of reference for participants. Although not intended as a general reference, the glossary may find use externally.
  • Data developers were provided with guidance on identifying and selecting raw data, defining the appropriate relationships, and describing supportive information to be included on both the decision rules and the nature of the input-output relationships.
  • In addition to guidance on how to develop datasets for inclusion in an LCI database, reasons to provide datasets on a unit process level or aggregated process level were described along with the corollary requirements for verification, documentation, validation against the database protocol, and review.
  • The guidance principles defined an LCI database as an organized collection of ISO 14040- and 14044-compliant LCI datasets that sufficiently conform to a set of criteria including consistent methodology, validation or review, interchangeable format, documentation, and nomenclature, and allow for interconnection of individual datasets. LCI databases store LCI datasets, allowing for their creation, addition, maintenance and search. LCI databases are managed by a responsible management team, which enables identifying and tracing the responsibilities for database creation, content, maintenance and updating.
  • Participants analyzed the different additional data sources, such as geospatial data, data from national environmentally extended economic Input-Output Tables and environmental accounts, data on social indicators and data on costs. In general, it was found that these data sources could be used in the development of unit process datasets for some defined purposes.
  • Current trends in information technology are expected to shape users’ expectations regarding data, software functionality, and inter-operability in ways that will alter the scope of what can be done with LCA data. It is important for the LCA community to anticipate these trends, along with market drivers, in order to be better prepared to properly manage the development of life cycle information with a need to maintain quality. Increased potential for data “mobility” would allow data from various sources to more easily find its way into LCA databases, and then into a wide range of new applications.
  • Finally, roadmaps for achieving the future vision were specified, allowing for a coherent process to both manage and leverage future demands for LCA data and evolving efficient mechanisms for its delivery to users.

Given the demand for information around the world on the global guidance, a briefing package has been prepared consisting of single slide, manager version and multi-slide, technical version PowerPoint files with speaker notes. An Executive Summary of the workshop report is in preparation with approval from the Steering Committee expected at or before the Milan SETAC Europe meeting. Lastly, an ambitious target has been set of having the actual book length publication ready by late August for a launch at the LCM 2011 Conference. Certain sections are also being discussed for journal submittal.

Butner.jpgScott Butner took many beautiful photographs during the LCA Pellston conference in Japan, which you can view on his Flickr site. Scott started his career with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 1984, working as a chemical engineer on biofuels process development. In the years since, he has focused much of his research on the role of information technology in environmental decision making and green design, including lifecycle analysis. Prior to obtaining his chemical engineering degree, however, Scott had a brief career as a full-time professional photographer, working for clients including the Seattle Seahawks professional football team and the Seattle Sounders soccer team. After a long hiatus from photography, Scott has recently resumed his love affair with the camera, and particularly enjoys fashion and landscape photography. He often spends his weekends in poorly lit nightclubs taking photographs of rock and roll bands that nobody has ever heard of, and in many cases, never will. While retaining his amateur status, he has had photographs published in more than a dozen magazines in the past two years, ranging from trade journals to fly fishing magazines and tourist guides. 

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