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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

How Well Does LCA Model Land Use Impacts on Biodiversity?-A Comparison with Approaches from Ecology and Conservation

Curran, Michael P.; Maia De Souza, Danielle; Antón, Assumpció; Teixeira, Ricardo F.M.; Michelsen, Ottar; Vidal-Legaz, Beatriz; Sala, Serenella; Milà i Canals, Llorenç


The modeling of land use impacts on biodiversity is considered a priority in life cycle assessment (LCA). Many diverging approaches have been proposed in an expanding literature on the topic. The UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative is engaged in building consensus on a shared modeling framework to highlight best-practice and guide model application by practitioners. In this paper, we evaluated the performance of 31 models from both the LCA and the ecology/conservation literature (20 from LCA, 11 from non-LCA fields) according to a set of criteria reflecting (i) model completeness, (ii) biodiversity representation, (iii) impact pathway coverage, (iv) scientific quality, and (v) stakeholder acceptance. We show that LCA models tend to perform worse than those from ecology and conservation (although not significantly), implying room for improvement. We identify seven best-practice recommendations that can be implemented immediately to improve LCA models based on existing approaches in the literature. We further propose building a "consensus model" through weighted averaging of existing information, to complement future development. While our research focuses on conceptual model design, further quantitative comparison of promising models in shared case studies is an essential prerequisite for future informed model choice.


Life cycle assessment; land use; biodiversity; UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative; ecological modelling

Published in

Environmental Science and Technology
2016, volume: 50, number: 6, pages: 2782-2795

Authors' information

Curran, Michael P.
Institute of Environmental Engineering
Maia De Souza, Danielle
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Maia De Souza, Danielle
Lethbridge Research and Development Centre
Maia De Souza, Danielle
University of Alberta
Antón, Assumpció
Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA)
Teixeira, Ricardo F.M.
University of Antwerp
Michelsen, Ottar
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Vidal-Legaz, Beatriz
Institute for Environment and Sustainability (JRC-IES)
Sala, Serenella
Institute for Environment and Sustainability (JRC-IES)
Milà i Canals, Llorenç
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Division for Technology, Industry and Economics

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Management
Environmental Sciences

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