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Organizational life cycle assessment: suitability for higher education institutions with environmental management systems

Lo-Iacono-Ferreira, Vanesa G., Torregrosa-López, Juan Ignacio, Capuz-Rizo, Salvador F.
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2017 v.22 no.12 pp. 1928-1943
United Nations Environment Programme, accounting, educational institutions, energy flow, environmental management, greenhouse gases, higher education, inventories, life cycle inventory, management systems, managers, midpoint indicator, prioritization
PURPOSE: The purpose of this study is to analyze the suitability of organizational life cycle assessments (O-LCAs) for higher education institutions (HEIs) with special attention to the benefits and particularities of those adopting environmental management systems (EMSs) verified according to Environmental Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). METHODS: A thorough analysis following ISO/TS 14072 and UNEP Guidance was carried out using the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) EMS verified by the EMAS for guiding principles to develop the methodological proposal. The self-sufficiency of UPV EMS for developing an O-LCA was tested at the university pilot unit. The four steps of the O-LCA were applied to the pilot. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: A reporting organization, the organization to be studied (boundaries and scope), was defined in consideration of the environmental units (EU) of the EMS. Operational control was selected as a consolidation method. Reporting flows and system boundaries are also discussed. A three-scope scheme of the GHG protocol is introduced and combined with the ISO 14072 boundary definition to support better alignment with the HEI structure. For the life cycle inventory analysis, a mechanism for identifying activities and processes as well as their material and energy flows is proposed in consideration of the particularities of HEIs. A procedure for the prioritization of data collection efforts and cutoffs was developed. The procedure integrates current EMAS actions based on the significance of environmental aspects combined with the influence of reporting organizations under their control. Impact categories focus on midpoint indicators along with an additional inventory level indicator as part of the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). Unfortunately, due to a lack of quality data available, LCIA can only be assessed in part with little interest in outcomes. Partial results are presented. CONCLUSIONS: An EMS verified by EMAS is proven to be useful in the assessment of O-LCA for HEIs. However, EMAS requirements do not ensure the availability of all data needed to develop an O-LCA. An accounting system should complement a lack of data if it is properly structured. Considerable efforts are required to obtain an accurate result. EMS and the accounting system may be able to provide information that supports an O-LCA approach based on a coherent prioritization of data collection efforts and cutoff procedures along with a set of justified impact category indicators. Overall, organization managers must be in favor of such an assessment to meet the requirements of successful implementation.