14 Feb 2024

Integration of Biodiversity Metrics in Life Cycle Assessment Methodology

New insights into the biodiversity footprint of the Dutch Diet through the linking the 'Mean Species Abundance’ biodiversity metric to the LCA methodology

The global food system is an important contributor to the global environmental crises. With an increasing world population and therefore increasing food demand, more and more resources are used to produce food, such as land and water, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are applied. Increasing demand for agricultural land for animal grazing and crop cultivation often goes with the destruction of biodiversity-rich ecosystems, and the natural habitats they provide. At the same time the application of fertilizers and pesticides leads to air, water and soil pollution and therefore impacts air, aquatic, and soil biodiversity. Fortunately, various initiatives are now being developed to map biodiversity loss and to implement actions to counteract it, such as the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030 and the UN Global Biodiversity Framework, which calls for tools and accessible information regarding the biodiversity impact of consumption patterns. Currently, there is a need for widely accepted guidance on the quantification of biodiversity loss within the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. In this context, Blonk, together with PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), has investigated and linked the ‘Mean Species Abundance’ (MSA) biodiversity metric to the LCA methodology and applied this to Dutch food consumption data over different periods.

Implementing biodiversity metrics into the LCA context

Biodiversity is a multi-dimensional concept and encompasses genetic, species and ecosystem variation. Due to its complexity, biodiversity is hardly possible to be captured in one metric. Therefore, a set of metrics is needed. It could for instance be measured in terms of species extinctions or rareness, species’ population abundance or ecosystem intactness. Recent initiatives are mainly focused on species diversity and account for biodiversity loss in LCA through Potentially Disappeared Fraction (PDF), which indicates the potential (risk of) species extinction. Within this study we focused on another indicator which could give complementary insights on the level naturalness. The Mean Species Abundance (MSA) loss method estimates the average abundance or population size of species relative to their abundance in a pristine undisturbed site. The MSA indicator is an example of a Biodiversity Intactness Indicator (BII) and is already applied in numerous global top-down assessment of biodiversity loss and the identification of major pressures that contribute to the loss at a global scale (GLOBIO.info). The MSA metric has originally been developed for different purposes and applications outside the LCA context. We are convinced that implementing the MSA-loss metric into the LCA methodology opens new insights into the biodiversity impact of human activities, by linking individual food consumption patterns to global challenges.

Biodiversity footprint of the Dutch diet

Within the study with PBL we investigated the MSA-loss associated with the average Dutch diet from the Food Consumption Survey 2012-2016 and 2019-2021 (RIVM) for the following pressures: land use, climate change, habitat fragmentation (due to roads and land occupation), habitat disturbance (due to roads and mining) and nitrogen deposition. In this context, we made use of the Blonk database, which contains life cycle inventories (LCI) of several agri-food products, based on activity data, models, and standards. It benefits from several collaborations between Blonk and other stakeholders, such as public and private institutes and industry associations. The Blonk Database is the base for several other environmental databases, such as Agri-footprint, GFLI, RIVM 2.1 database. Through the use of recent data, models, and knowledge available, we were able to estimate the environmental data of the 250 most consumed food items in the Netherlands. Adaptions were needed to shift from global flows to country-specific flows and to create inventory flows for road transport. In order to achieve a MSA Endpoint Indicator the GLOBIO 4 framework has been used to get Biodiversity Impacts Factors (work performed by PBL; Schipper et al in forthcoming), referring to the MSA loss per unit of pressure (such as land use, climate change and nitrogen deposition). 

With the help of an impact assessment method, the MSA-loss intensity per food product in the LCI database could be calculated. In the next step the results were multiplied with the consumed quantities in the Netherlands, derived from the two most recent Food Consumption Surveys (VCP in Dutch). Based on this, the MSA loss related to the Dutch diet could be calculated through an Excel interface.

Figure 1 visualizes the different steps of the followed methodology.

Scientific publication

Together with PBL, we are currently working on a scientific publication that delves into the development of incorporating the MSA-loss biodiversity metric into the LCA context. In addition to describing this methodology development, the publication also encompasses the results of a practical application of the metric. This is demonstrated through a comparative analysis of the Dutch diet, utilizing data from the Food Consumption Surveys conducted in 2012-2016 and 2019-2021.

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Mariem Maaoui
Freelance consultant

Do you have question about this study and interested in the integration of the biodiversity metric ? Get in touch with Mariem.