Life cycle assessment of stormwater management in the context of climate change adaptation

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Expected increases in pluvial flooding, due to climatic changes, require large investments in the retrofitting of cities to keep damage at an acceptable level. Many cities have investigated the possibility of implementing stormwater management (SWM) systems which are multi-functional and consist of different elements interacting to achieve desired safety levels. Typically, an economic assessment is carried out in the planning phase, while environmental sustainability is given little or no attention. In this paper, life cycle assessment is used to quantify environmental impacts of climate change adaptation strategies. The approach is tested using a climate change adaptation strategy for a catchment in Copenhagen, Denmark. A stormwater management system, using green infrastructure and local retention measures in combination with planned routing of stormwater on the surfaces to manage runoff, is compared to a traditional, sub-surface approach. Flood safety levels based on the Three Points Approach are defined as the functional unit to ensure comparability between systems. The adaptation plan has significantly lower impacts (3-18 person equivalents/year) than the traditional alternative (14-103 person equivalents/year) in all analysed impact categories. The main impacts are caused by managing rain events with return periods between 0.2 and 10 years. The impacts of handling smaller events with a return period of up to 0.2 years and extreme events with a return period of up to 100 years are lower in both alternatives. The uncertainty analysis shows the advantages of conducting an environmental assessment in the early stages of the planning process, when the design can still be optimised, but it also highlights the importance of detailed and site-specific data.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Research
Pages (from-to)394-404
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Allocation
  • Environmental impact
  • Flood protection
  • Functional unit
  • LCA
  • Three Points Approach
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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