Recommendations for Life Cycle based Indicators for Sustainable Consumption and Production in the European Union

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Public administrations in Europe need robust Sustainability Indicators to support the conception, development, implementation, and monitoring of policies. For policies and measures related to production, consumption, and waste management, these indicators must account for all relevant environmental impacts and they must be inclusive; to help avoid the “shifting of burdens” of impacts among e.g. countries and among different types of environment and human health considerations. Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is essential to ensure this, taking into consideration the environmental impacts along the whole “life cycle” of a product (both goods and services) in a single framework, irrespective of when or where they occur. The life cycle ranges from resource extraction, material production, manufacturing, use (or service delivery), to re-use, recovery, end of life treatment, and disposal of remaining waste Life Cycle Thinking already enhances a number of European policy activities, facilitating more coherent and science-based policymaking: This visibly started from the Integrated Product Policy (IPP) Communication [1] of 2003. In the context of decoupling economic growth from environmental impact, the two European Commission’s Thematic Strategies on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources [2] and on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste [3] of 2005 equally raised the potential need for life cycle based indicators. This will be continued and extended in the upcoming Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan (SCP) [4], where life cycle thinking is a major component.

The workshop

On 22-23 January 2007, in Cyprus, the European Commission’s Directorate General Joint Research Centre (DG JRC) co-ordinated a two-day workshop, bringing together 50 scientific experts and public administrators from 20 countries to discuss whether, and how, to further integrate life cycle thinking into indicators in the contexts of decoupling and sustainability. In addition to background presentations from the European Commission (DG Environment, DG Eurostat, DG Joint Research Centre) and the European Environment Agency (EEA), Member States representatives and external experts contributed with their experience and insights into current practice. In subsequent breakout groups recommendations and further steps were discussed, providing the timely examination of the needs and options for life cycle based indicators for decision support at all levels of public administration in Europe.

Outcome

The necessity for further developing existing Sustainability Indicators that stand in relation to production, consumption, and waste, such as the respective indicators among the Sustainable Development Indicators (SDI) developed by Eurostat, by integrating Life Cycle Thinking was stressed by all participants, as stated in the presentations and the breakout group reports. Recommendations were given for activities spanning from the evaluation and further harmonisation of the underlying methods, to the development of overall indicators from a policy needs perspective. It was highlighted that the developments must focus on providing meaningful, reliable, and consistent indicators that have a clear policy-support role. These are required at the EU and Member State levels, as well as regional and local levels. The indicators are to be developed on solid methodological foundations to achieve broad acceptance right from the beginning. Feasibility and affordability were equally stressed as important.

Next steps

This workshop and its outputs will facilitate further developments within the Commission, as well as collaboration with Member State representatives and scientific experts, aiming at the establishment of a set of agreed methods for life cycle based sustainability indicators in European policy support. The first life cycle based indicators to be tackled will be the Decoupling Indicators required for the implementation of the Thematic Strategy on Natural Resources [2], which are likely to support the Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan (SCP) [4].

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