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EarthSmart Impact Assessment Methods

EarthSmart (ES) is designed to provide clear testimony to the full environmental impact of products and services, including scenarios for alternative materials, processing, designs, and other parameters.

Unlike other material selection tools, EarthSmart does not store its data in one pre-calculated format. Instead, EarthSmart data is stored in aggregated inventory format.

This allows users to choose from any of the internationally accepted impact assessment methods (subject to data licensing as described below).

For beginning users, EarthSmart is set up to use the ES Method, which the EarthShift Global team developed based on many years of LCA experience with a wide range of companies. The following description is a “look under the hood” at how EarthSmart performs its analyses using the ES Method, which may be of interest to LCA professionals and those seeking a deeper understanding of how LCAs are conducted.

“I’m very pleased with my decision to use Earth Smart in my Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) course. The students are undergraduate students with a background in environment and business. Although Earth Smart seemed complicated at first, once they got into the program and entered the components for their project, built the life cycle and analyzed it, it was like magic to them- they were awed by what they could do with it and they found it fairly easy to use. They also really enjoyed seeing the results of a simple LCA for products they had chosen and were very pleased to have learned how to use new software. I highly recommend Earth Smart for introductory LCA courses-it is fairly intuitive to use.”
— Goretty Dias, Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo, Canada

In the broadest sense, Life Cycle Assessment involves collecting a substantial amount of data about a product or service (resources used, emissions created, etc.), and then boiling down that data through an interpretive process to create high-level metrics that can be used for assessment and comparison with other options. These impacts address the needs of most users by focusing on the damage a product or service causes to human health, ecosystem quality, and resources, and then adding metrics that are most of interest to today’s companies: greenhouse gas emissions and water and energy use.

We began the development of the ES impact assessment method by drawing on five categories from ReCiPe – Goedkoop, 2009 (http://www.lcia-recipe.net/), the latest internationally accepted data interpretation methodology.  We then added a sixth category - cumulative energy demand (PDF) – Frishknecht, 2003 (http://www.ecoinvent.org/files/201007_hischier_weidema_implementation_of...). This combined approach provides a broad and robust perspective on the total environmental impact of a product or service.

Three of the ReCiPe assessment categories calculate an endpoint result by taking into account a different combination of environmental mechanisms and mid-point indicators (“Impact Categories”).

The ES Method Leverages the Following ReCiPe Categories

Human Health

In this category, the damage analysis links six impact categories (Climate Change, Human Toxicity, Photochemical Oxidant Formation, Particulate Matter Formation, Ionizing Radiation, and Ozone Depletion) to Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY), the sum of years of potential life lost due to premature mortality and the years of productive life lost due to disability. 


The impact categories that apply to ecosystem quality are:  Climate Change, Terrestrial Acidification, Freshwater Eutrophication, Ecotoxicity, Agricultural Land Occupation, Urban Land Occupation and Natural Land Transformation. The damage to ecosystems is measured by considering which species would disappear in a given time period.


The two impact categories that apply to resources are Fossil Depletion and Metal Depletion. The quantification of damage is based on the marginal increase of cost due to extraction of resources, measured in dollars per kilogram ($/kg, economic).

Two of the Categories Come from ReCiPe Midpoints

Water Depletion

This category quantifies the total water consumed by a process/product. It is measured as the volume of water consumed (in cubic meters). Unlike the other metrics, water depletion is not directly correlated to environmental damage, but it is an important benchmark.

Climate Change

Gas emissions linked to climate change include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and fluorinated gases. This category combines the effect of the differing times greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and their relative effectiveness in absorbing outgoing infrared radiation. The concentration of greenhouse gases is measured as kg equivalents of CO2, i.e. the relative global warming potential of gas as compared to CO2. The IPCC model with a 100-year time horizon is used for characterization. The uptake of carbon dioxide from the air (sequestration of CO2 by plants) and the subsequent emission of biogenic carbon dioxide (from the burning of biomass) are not included.

EarthSmart Also Incorporates the Sixth Category

Cumulative Energy Demand

Cumulative energy demand measures the cumulative energy resources required (total MJs) throughout the life cycle of a product or service, including energy from: non-renewable fossil, non-renewable nuclear, non-renewable biomass, renewable biomass, renewable wind, solar, geothermal, and renewable water.


To make interpretation and comparisons easier, LCA studies often normalize data in relation to a reference system. The normalization factors available with the impact assessment methods are typically for a certain geographical region. Our EarthSmart method contains normalization factors that express per-capita world impacts for the year 2000.

Other Methods are Available in EarthSmart, with More Being Added All the Time

Methods With Six or Fewer Indicators (free use)
IPCC 2013 GWP 100a
IPCC 2013 GWP 20a

Methods With More Than Six Indicators requires an eco-invent license ($ 900)
CML 2001
CML –IA Baseline
Selected LCI Results (miscellaneous inventory categories)

Additional methods and categories can be added upon request — Just ask your EarthShift Global Sustainability Guide! If you don’t have a guide yet, please contact us to start your relationship now.

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