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The rebound effect through industrial ecology’s eyes: a review of LCA-based studies

Font Vivanco, David, van der Voet, Ester
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2014 v.19 no.12 pp. 1933-1947
energy, environmental assessment, environmental impact, issues and policy, learning, life cycle assessment, production economics
PURPOSE: Industrial ecology academics have embraced with great interest the rebound effect principle operationalised within energy economics. By pursuing more comprehensive assessments, they applied tools such as life cycle assessment (LCA) to appraise the environmental consequences of the rebound effect. As a result, the mainstream rebound mechanism was broadened and a diversity of (sometimes inconsistent) definitions and approaches unveiled. To depict the state of play, a comprehensive literature review is needed. METHODS: A literature review has been carried out by targeting scientific documents relevant for the integration of the rebound effect into LCA-based studies. The search was conducted using two approaches: (1) via online catalogues using a defined search criterion and (2) via cross-citation analysis from the documents identified through the first approach. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: By analysing a total of 42 works yielded during our review, it was possible to bring together the various advantages of the life cycle perspective, as well as to identify the main inconsistencies and uninformed claims present in literature. Concretely, three main advantages have been identified and are discussed: (1) the representation of the rebound effect as a multi-dimensional, life cycle estimate, (2) the improvement of the technology explicitness and (3) the broadening of the consumption and production factors leading to the rebound effect. Also, inconsistencies on the definition and classification of the rebound effect have been found among studies. CONCLUSIONS: The review contributes a number of valuable insights to understand how the rebound effect has been treated within the industrial ecology and LCA fields. For instance, the conceptual and methodological refinements introduced by these fields represent a step forward from traditional viewpoints, making the study of the rebound effect more comprehensive and meaningful for environmental assessment and policy making. However, the broadened scope of this new approach unveiled some conceptual inconsistencies, which calls for a common framework. This framework would help the LCA community to consistently integrate the rebound effect as well as to create a common language with other disciplines, favouring learning and co-evolution. We believe that our findings can serve as a starting point in order to delineate such a common framework.