Absolute sustainability assessment of a Danish water utility company

Morten Ryberg, T.K. Bjerre

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Pressures exerted by humans on the Earth are starting to affect and destabilize the Earth System as expressed by the Planetary Boundaries (PB) which delimits a safe operating space for humanity to act within. To ensure a stable Earth System and become sustainable in an absolute sense, humanity must reduce its pressures to be within within the safe operating space. This includes utility companies which supply water and treat wastewater. Thus, we sought to assess if the utility company VandCenter Syd (VCSyd) could be considered absolutely sustainable relative to the PBs. Absolute sustainability assessment requires three inputs: (i) the environmental footprint of the assessed activity; (ii) the environmental boundary; and (iii) the share of environmental boundary assigned to the assessed activity. To be absolutely sustainable, the activity’s footprint must not exceed the assigned share of the environmental boundary. As environmental boundary, the PBs as defined by Steffen et al. (2015) were used. Potential limitations of directly applying these are discussed. The environmental footprint of VCSyd was quantified using life-cycle assessment (LCA) which includes and inventories all resource used and emissions associated with VCSyd. The inventory was expressed in the metrics of the PBs by use of the Planetary Boundaries based life-cycle impact assessment methodology by Ryberg et al. (2018). To assess absolute sustainability, the share of the total safe operating space, that VCSyd can be considered entitled must be determined. Shares of safe operating space were assigned based on different sharing principles such as contribution to employment, revealed consumer preferences, and existing contribution to environmental impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event13th Annual Water Research Conference: Danish Water Forum - University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 31 Jan 201931 Jan 2019
Conference number: 13


Conference13th Annual Water Research Conference
LocationUniversity of Copenhagen
Internet address


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