Absolute environmental sustainability assessment of a Danish utility company relative to the Planetary Boundaries

Morten Ryberg*, Troels K. Bjerre, Per Henrik Nielsen, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Increasing environmental pressure from production and consumption of products and services is starting to affect Earth System stability. Thus, the Planetary Boundaries framework introduced a set of absolute boundaries for keeping the Earth System stable and delimiting a safe operating space for humanity. The sum of environmental pressures associated with human activities should not exceed the safe operating space. This includes utility companies whose activities relate to supply of water and treatment of waste- and stormwater. This study conducted an absolute environmental sustainability assessment (AESA) of a Danish utility company to evaluate if it could be considered absolutely sustainable relative to an assigned share of the safe operating space (SoSOS). The AESA evaluated the company's impacts relative to an assigned share of the Planetary Boundaries and relative to specific local boundaries for nitrogen and phosphorous emissions. Results showed that the assigned SoSOS was exceeded for 10 of 18 impact categories, for example, climate related boundaries were exceeded by up to a factor 7.8 while local nitrogen and phosphorus boundaries were exceeded by ca. a factor 16. The AESA can indicate to which degree the company exceeds its assigned SoSOS for certain impact categories and the processes and life-cycle stages to focus on to become absolutely sustainable. This information is crucial for deriving specific impact reduction targets as part of environmental strategies for companies to become sustainable in an absolute sense.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Volume25
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)765-777
ISSN1088-1980
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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