CORDIS - EU research results

Sustainability assessment methods and tools to support decision-making in the process industries

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SAMT (Sustainability assessment methods and tools to support decision-making in the process industries)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2016-12-31

Sustainability assessment methods are needed to support sustainable technology development and to evaluate the impacts of existing solutions, products and technologies. While there are aspects and indicators that are common to all process industries, sector specific tools are required to address the sector specific features in a fair and transparent way. At the moment, several tools, assessment methods and indicators exist, but they differ in their goal and scope and are intended for different kind of use within companies, by consumers or by authorities to support policy planning and evaluation. Additionally, different tools are focused for different levels of assessment: product, company, industry or society. Thus the problem is not so much the existence of proper tools but rather the lack of understanding and knowledge on how they should be applied and in which context. Furthermore, suitable tools for analysing resource and energy efficiency within the process industries and across the different sectors should be recognized.

SAMT was a coordination and support action that promoted cross-sectorial learning and uptake of the most promising methods and tools by conducting case studies, organizing workshops and identifying needs for future R&D and standardization. The aim of the SAMT project was to review and make recommendations about the most potential methods for evaluating sustainability in the process industry, focusing especially on energy and resource efficiency. SAMT collected the experiences of leading industrial actors from cement, oil, metal, water, waste and chemical industry, and reviewed and applied existing life cycle based sustainability assessment methods in a cross-sectorial context. A roadmap and an implementation plan for developing consistent sustainability assessment methods and for mainstreaming their use within process industries was created.
Work performed in the SAMT project included:
- A review of the existing sustainability assessment methods and tools (with resource and energy efficiency perspective), including interactive visualisations illustrating existing methods and tools and their key elements;
- Interviews with industrial sustainability experts concerning current practices and challenges related to sustainability assessment;
- Development of an evaluation criteria and assessment of the suitability and applicability of the methods and tools to support decision making (using adapted RACER method);
- Industrial case studies applying selected sustainability assessment methods and tools in a cross-sectorial context. Methods tested within the case studies included: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Material Input per Service (MIPS – Material Footprint), Life Cycle Costing (LCC) , Eco-Efficiency Analysis (EEA), Green Productivity (GP), Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA), Water Footprint (WF), Carbon Footprint (CF), Exegetic Life Cycle Assessment (E-LCA) and Life Cycle Activity Analysis (LCAA).
- Preparation of a roadmap and implementation plan including recommendations for future actions and proposals for future standardisation activities;
- Organisation of three open workshops to discuss current best practices and challenges related to sustainability assessment methods and practice; learnings and outcome from the industrial case studies; results and conclusions of the three SPIRE-4 projects to support creation of harmonised recommendations.

Practical bottlenecks that would need to be solved in order to increase the use of the methods within industries include several aspects ranging from incompatibility of existing software tools and data formats, to variety of methodological choices and assumptions, and data scarcity. As the development of the LCA based methods is moving from environmental assessments towards multidimensional assessments including economic and social aspects and extend from product level to sector level, requirements related to successful implementation and interpretation of the results increase. From the evaluated life cycle based methods, all are capable of providing useful information to decision-making, but only few of the methods are regularly applied by the companies who participated in the study. To enable more efficient implementation for industrial purposes, the LCA based methods would benefit for further development related to credibility, robustness and easiness to use. Cross-sectorial sustainability assessment using hybrid methods is considered interesting and useful for examples for evaluating the impacts of circular use of resources and recycling, but available hybrid LCA methods currently lack concrete tool implementations. New development needs seem to arise, as the understanding of different aspects of sustainability increases, and as the demands from stakeholders become more frequent. The methods increase understanding of the evaluated phenomena, help avoiding burden shifting and provide sound, science based background for decision-making.
The main research needs identified during the SAMT project included:
- Simplified LCA-based methods and tools for regular use within companies
- Comprehensive assessments integrating different aspects of sustainability to support decision-making
- Hybrid methods and tools for cross-sectorial and sectorial assessments
- Methods and tools for addressing regional or local impacts
- Assessing and communicating positive aspects within the LCA framework
- Support for method and tool selection in different decision-making contexts.
Many of the topics are already well-known by the LCA-community, but still valid and important. SAMT findings highlight especially the need for simplified assessments, assessing positive impacts and providing support for method and tool selection. These are considered essential for mainstreaming the use of life cycle based sustainability assessment methods as part of industrial decision-making. A need for further standardisation was also identified. Potential new working items are related to a development of guidelines for simplified LCA and harmonisation of economic and social assessments. The vision statement developed as part of the roadmapping process describes a desired future state related to use of sustainability assessment methods within industry. According to the vision “Sustainability assessment provides additional value for industrial decision-making. Related methods are widely integrated in industrial activities, promoting competitiveness, sustainability, co-operation and data exchange within and between sectors and value chains.” In order to reach this goal, the implementation and interpretation phases should be supported by flexible tools and compatible datasets. Methods and tools should be applicable for addressing different aspects of sustainability, and for conducting either comprehensive or streamlined studies, depending of the purpose. Results of the assessments should be communicated in a way that would help decision-makers in making sustainable choices.
Harmonized principles for conducting the assessments and reporting and communicating about the results are required, but due to variety of needs and actors, it is unlikely that one solution could fit with all needs. As a consequence, support for selecting best available methods for different situations is needed.
SAMT project deliverables, presenting extensively project results are available at the SAMT project website:
Overview: which tools implement which methods. Interactive visualisations available at samt website