Better but good enough? – Putting numbers on sustainability with Absolute Environmental Sustainability Assessments

Activity: Talks and presentationsTalks and presentations in private or public companies and organisations


Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a relative environmental assessment tool for comparing the performance of products
and services that fulfill the same functions. Thus, LCA can support decisions by identifying the most environmentally
friendly product among a suite of products. While LCA has helped reducing the overall environmental impact per
product or service consumed, it is evident that total environmental pressure is still increasing. Hence, there is a need
for moving from assessing if a product is getting relatively better or is better than the alternatives towards assessing
if a product is actually good enough relative to absolute environmental boundaries. This type of assessment is referred
to as Absolute Environmental Sustainability Assessment (AESA).
An AESA consist of three main steps: (i) identifying relevant environmental boundaries, (ii) assigning a share of the
boundary to the assessed activity, and (iii) quantifying the environmental impacts of the activity in the metrics of the
boundary. An activity can be considered absolutely sustainable if its environmental impact is less than the assigned
share of the absolute boundary. If the activity exceed its assigned share of the boundary, the AESA can be used to
define absolute reduction targets for the activity to become absolutely sustainable.
In this seminar, I will introduce you to the concept of absolute sustainability and how this can be quantified using
AESA. I will discuss the added value of AESAs compared to LCA and the limitations of current AESA methods.
Finally, I will present the current state-of-the-art in AESA and tell you about the ongoing research to further develop
and improve AESAs.
Period28 Aug 2019
Held atSwiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland