Ecological scarcity

Ecological scarcity

Ecological scarcity method - Application in Switzerland, Germany and Japan

Ecological scarcity method for Germany – Implementation in SimaPro available

About two years ago eco-factors for Germany have been published for the first time. The factors are documented in a book, but so far they were not available electronically. ESU-services now implemented the German ecological scarcity method in SimaPro according to “Ahbe, S., L. Schebek, et al. (2014). Methode der ökologischen Knappheit für Deutschland – Eine Initiative der Volkswagen AG, Logos Verlag Berlin GmbH, Berlin”. The CSV-file with this method is sold by ESU-services for SimaPro users interested to apply this LCIA method in their case studies.

Swiss Update 2013

ESU-services was contracted to establish the next update with the reference year 2013. The update for the method has been released in 2014. ESU-services can also provide all transport data necessary to include noise as an environmental impact in calculations with the ecoinvent v2.2 data.

Swiss Update 2006

The update of the life cycle impact assessment method Swiss ecological scarcity (eco-points 2006) was finalized in 2008. With the help of the project management and experts from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and members of the Swiss association of environmentally conscious business (öbu), ESU-services was able to substantially improve the applicability and flexibility of the methodological concept and to update the eco-factors to the actual state of the environment and environmental legislation. Furthermore, the method was extended to key environmental impacts such as water scarcity. The ecological scarcity method was the first end-point impact assessment method including water footprint.

The actual publication describes the derivation of eco-factors taking into account actual emissions and resource uses on one hand as well as Swiss political goals and internationally agreed emission targets supported by Switzerland on the other.

Commissioner: Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)

Methodological approach

The ecological scarcity method weights environmental impacts - pollutant emissions and resource consumption - by applying "eco-factors". The eco-factor of a substance is derived from environmental law or corresponding political targets. The more the current level of emissions or consumption of resources exceeds the environmental protection target set, the greater the eco-factor becomes, expressed in eco-points (EP). An eco-factor is essentially derived from three elements (in accordance with ISO Standard 14044): characterisation, normalisation and weighting.

Characterisation captures the relative harmfulness of a pollutant emission or resource extraction vis-à-vis a reference substance within a given impact category (global warming potential, acidification potential, radioactivity etc.). Normalisation quantifies the contribution of a unit of pollutant or resource use to the total current load/pressure in a region (in this case the whole of Switzerland) per year.Weighting expresses the relationship between the current pollutant emission or resource consumption (current flow) and the politically deterimed emission or consumption target (critical flow).

The eco-factors established with this approach are then multiplied with the cumulative emissions and resource uses calculated in the life cycle inventory analysis. The method may be used for product comparisons, for process and product improvements, for the assessment of total environmental impacts of production sites or of the final consumption in a country.

Applications in Switzerland

The method is used in the Biofuels Life Cycle Assessment Ordinance and has first been used in an LCA of several biofuel options in Switzerland. A recent article in Science referred to this application as a new ground breaking option. Based on this application the verification procedure for tax exemption of biofuels has been developed.

Most LCA practitioners in Switzerland use the ecological scacrity method in at least some of their studies. The following organisations published LCAs using the ecological scarcity method:

  • agroscope (environmental report)
  • Carbotech (biomaterials)
  • Doka life cycle assessment (eco-factors noise)
  • Gammarus (restaurant)
  • E2 Management Consulting AG (key figures for companies)
  • EMPA (Agrofuels, coffee capsules)
  • ESU-services Ltd. (food production and consumption, energy systems)
  • ETH Zürich (vegetables)
  • INFRAS (environmental report)
  • myClimate (consumer goods)
  • Paul Scherrer Institut - PSI (electric mobility)
  • sinum (financial services)

Eco-factors are used in case studies for a wide range of different customers such as associations, authorities, NGO's and companies such as:

  • Swiss Federal Offices, e.g. for roads, for the environment, of civil aviation, for buildings and logistics, for energy and for agriculture (FEDRO, FOEN, FOCA, FOBL, OFEN, FOAG)
  • National organizations such as e.g. Koordinationskonferenz der Bau- und Liegenschaftsorgane der öffentlichen Bauherren (KBOB) and eco-bau
  • City administrations from Zurich, Basle, Luzerne, etc..
  • Companies such as Baer, Coop, CS, ewz, Geberit, Knecht und Müller, McDonalds, Migros, Post, Raiffeisen, SBB, UBS
  • NGO's such as WWF Switzerland, Climatop, VUE

In another study the total environmental impacts of Swiss consumption and production was quantified for the first time using the ecological scarcity method 2006.

International applications

There is a rising international interest in the application and development of the ecological scarcity approach. ESU-services developed ecological scarcity Japan in the framework of a biofuels research programme. Adaptations to other countries such as Jordan are available too.

A German research institute recommended the ecological scarcity method as a basis for a national life cycle impact assessment method.

Volkswagen and DaimlerCrysler use this approach in the environmental reporting of their production facilities.

An LCA case study on beverage cups made from fossil and bio-plastics to be used during the EURO 2008 was comissioned by a group of cities and national authorities from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The European research institute DG-JRC in Ispra recommends the ecological scarcity approach for the assessment of water use and radioactive emissions as mid-point indicators in LCIA. The study has been carried out by leading European LCIA experts.

Ecological scarcity Japan

Recent discussions and debates of biomass utilization in Japan necessitated conducting life cycle assessment (LCA). However, there were no impact assessment methods suitable for the assessment of agricultural production and biomass utilization in Japan from a comprehensive perspective. In 2004 eco-factors for Japan were calculated based on the former version of Swiss ecological scarcity 1998. Unfortunately, the adapted version did not take into account, for example, ammonium and nitrate emissions, which are crucial in assessing agricultural production and biomass utilization. The existing Japanese eco-factors were completed and updated according to the new version of the Swiss ecological scarcity method and published in 2014.


The following documents are available for download:

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