SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  12 May 2011
Volume 12 Issue 5

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Budapest, Hungary

LCA Case Study Symposium, Budapest: Sustainable Lifestyle

Klara Szita Toth (University of Miskolc, Hungary) and Alessandra Zamagni (ENEA- National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment, Italy)

A two-day symposium on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Case Studies, aimed at strengthening the influence of LCA on everyday life, was held in Budapest, Hungary on 28 February and 1 March of this year. Case studies defining sustainable production and consumption patterns, including studies on nutrition, housing, mobility and tourism were presented in an effort to stimulate new developments in measurements of sustainable consumption. Twenty-eight oral presentations, 29 poster presentations and two invited speakers’ presentations were provided in six different sessions. The 74 participants (69 European, 3 Asian and 1 North American) came from 19 countries. 15 percent of the participants were from Central and Eastern European countries.

The first invited speaker, from the Hungarian National Development Ministry, underlined the role of LCA in developing the green economy in Hungary. The second invited speaker—Rosa Groezinger, researcher from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)/Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Center on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP)—gave an interesting presentation on the role of the CSCP.

Presentation at LCA meetingSustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) proved to be the most popular of the six conference sessions. The presentations addressed the role of LCA and other tools in shaping lifestyles toward sustainability. The importance of this topic to the scientific community and also the European community has been acknowledged through the development of the SCP Action Plan (and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan) in 2008, now under revision. The SCP Action Plan seeks to identify solutions that give value to products while reducing consumption by finding novel ways of satisfying the needs of consumers. Three main aspects need to be addressed:

  • Consumption and production practices
  • Environmental performance of products and increased demand for more sustainable goods
  • Role of industry in taking advantage of opportunities to innovate

The presentations addressed these three aspects, providing complementary points of view. What emerged is that the question of consumption is extremely important and needs to be better understood. Efforts should go beyond traditional product LCA, trying to understand, among other things, trends in consumption activities and rebound effects. At the product level, the question of consumption has been addressed from a different perspective: how consumers perceive the environmental sustainability of products.

Group listening to presentationOverall, the presentations in the SCP session stressed the important role played by LCA in addressing questions related to consumption and production. LCA is increasingly recognized by practitioners as a method that can provide support for answering political as well as consumers’ questions in ways that promote more sustainable behaviors.

One of the most interesting presentations, “What does sustainable food consumption mean from the consumers’ point of view,” was presented in the Defining Sustainable Lifestyles session. Other remarkable topics covered in this session included the case of tap water and bottled water, the LCA of different types of buildings, and tourism.

The message of the Environmental and Socio-economic Dimension of Sustainable Lifestyles session was that even if we have excellent goods with strong environmental performance, our eco-footprint may still be inflated because of the way we use those goods (i.e., because of consumer habits). This is especially true for information technology products.

The New Developments Facilitating the Measurement of Sustainable Consumption session analyzed the impacts of prospective technologies. Two project results were presented, both evaluating building materials. The PROSUITE EU project focused on scenarios of consumption and technological change. The CAP’EM project developed a simplified LCA methodology to evaluate 100 construction materials.

The papers from the Carbon, Water, Land and Pollution Footprints for Households and Communities session addressed building sector, waste treatment, policy, rural society and socio-demographic question of consumption. The building sector, accounting for about 40% of the energy consumption in Europe, has great potential for providing cost-effective energy savings. One of presentations highlighted passive housing as a low energy consumption technology. The take-home message from the session was that household and community footprints vary strongly, depending on production practices, technologies used, socio-demographic factors and consumption habits.

One of the presentations in the Resource Utilization and Waste Management by Municipalities session showed the environmental benefits of waste reduction methods at a municipal recycling park. Another presented a long-term evaluation of a municipal wastewater management system, from small wastewater treatment and sludge treatment through land use management. Posters presented included an Italian case study of LCA of waste management technology and a Hungarian case study of electric waste treatment. The posters covered both technological and economic aspects of waste analysis. The poster presentations also covered LCA topics concerning biofuels, renewable energy, the logistics chain in the clothing sector, biodegradable packaging, wood products and sustainability life cycle assessment (SLCA) in socio-efficiency analysis.

There were many excellent presentations and intensive discussion after every presentation. Some papers showed true scientific advances. The papers covered different economic sectors and goods, and they investigated the sustainable lifestyle from different points of view, including producers’ and consumers’ perspectives. The fields that received the most attention were food production and consumption, product labelling, renewable resources, fuel and traffic, and the building sector, especially construction materials and building methods.

This symposium demonstrated ways that LCA can be used to promote more sustainable choices. It can be used to orient producers to change their technological practices, and to improve the environmental performance of products and services. It can be used to educate consumers in their choices and everyday practices. Hopefully the symposium and its papers will promote other areas of sustainability research too.

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