Reflecting the importance of human needs fulfilment in absolute sustainability assessments: Development of a sharing principle

Mia Heide*, Michael Z. Hauschild, Morten Ryberg

*Corresponding author for this work

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Absolute environmental sustainability assessments (AESAs) evaluate whether the environmental impact of a product system is within its share of a safe operating space as determined by biophysical sustainability limits such as the planetary boundaries (PBs). The choice of sharing principle has significant influence on the result of an AESA, and any studies call for further research on how to share the safe operating space in an operational way that relates to the product's contribution to the welfare of the user. In this study, we develop the “Fulfilment of Human Needs” (FHN) principle as a sharing principle that operationalizes sufficientarianism (making sure everyone gets enough). The FHN principle is tested on two case studies (a food item and a textile) against four of the PBs: climate change, land-system change, water use, and nitrogen cycling. The operationalization of the FHN principle is slightly different between the PBs; the starting point for climate change is the average consumption pattern in countries classified as “most sustainable,” while for the other three PBs the status quo impact in the most sustainable countries is used. To operationalize the FHN principle on the product level, each consumption category is downscaled according to objective sources that determine the value delivered to the users. We demonstrate that, compared to other previously applied sharing principles, the FHN principle supports a stronger relation to the importance to the users of the delivered outcome.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1151-1164
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Absolute environmental sustainability assessment
  • AESA
  • Industrial ecology
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Sharing principle
  • SoSOS


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