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Substitution modeling can coherently be used in attributional life cycle assessments

Arianne Provost-Savard and Guillaume Majeau-Bettez

Article (2024)

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Most life cycle assessment (LCA) studies use the attributional methodology. This approach attributes a share of global environmental impacts to one or multiple functions provided by a normatively circumscribed system. Multifunctional systems that are not technologically subdivisible between co-functions are frequently encountered in LCA studies. It then becomes necessary to resort to co-production modeling techniques, like the substitution approach. The use of substitution modeling in attributional LCA (ALCA) is, however, discouraged amongst practitioners, due to the alleged violation of central requirements of the attributional methodology. The objective of this research is to shed light on common misconceptions about the compatibility of substitution with ALCA. The first misconception is that the use of substitution in ALCA violates the conservation of total environmental impacts. We find that this idea arises from a confusion regarding the attribution of impacts to the secondary product(s). The second misconception stipulates that substitution is not coherent with the state-descriptive characteristic of ALCA. We conclude that we can describe a given system as resulting from an inferred (substitution) change, rather than as disrupted by this change. Finally, we discuss the choice of the substituted technology, and argue there is a logic to marginal substitution in ALCA. We therefore recommend accepting substitution modeling in ALCA.

Uncontrolled Keywords

attributional; co-production; industrial ecology; life cycle assessment; multifunctionality; substitution

Subjects: 1500 Environmental engineering > 1500 Environmental engineering
1800 Chemical engineering > 1800 Chemical engineering
Department: Department of Chemical Engineering
Research Center: CIRAIG - International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services
Funders: NSERC / CRSNG, Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologie
Grant number: RGPIN-2019-04729, 301815
PolyPublie URL: https://publications.polymtl.ca/58010/
Journal Title: Journal of Industrial Ecology
Publisher: Wiley Blackwell
DOI: 10.1111/jiec.13480
Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.13480
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2024 14:35
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2024 14:35
Cite in APA 7: Provost-Savard, A., & Majeau-Bettez, G. (2024). Substitution modeling can coherently be used in attributional life cycle assessments. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 16 pages. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.13480


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