Accounting for biodiversity in Life Cycle Assessments of forestry and agricultural production systems
Up until recently incorporating measures of forest biodiversity within a life cycle assessment (LCA) have not been feasible due to a lack of a method that captures key biodiversity principles (i.e. the impacts on various taxonomic groups such as plants, mammals, birds, frogs and insects) and that can be applied globally. Not having such a method has put the forestry industry at a disadvantage as previous LCAs involving forest products assumed the impacts on biodiversity from forestry operations negated other positive environmental outcomes (e.g. low greenhouse footprint, carbon sequestration).
To overcome this situation, a new method called BioImpact has been proposed to account for biodiversity impacts in Australian LCAs. Now researchers from NSW Department of Primary Industries, the University of Tasmania and the University of Wollongong, with funding from FWPA, have further developed and refined BioImpact using two forestry systems (native forestry and plantation softwood timber production) and two agriculture systems (cropping and rangeland grazing) in NSW.
The study demonstrated BioImpact works very well, discerning different biodiversity impacts for different land uses. Indeed, BioImpact was much more accurate than existing biodiversity assessment methods such as net primary productivity (NPP) and species richness. The results were consistent with broad expectations regarding the relative scores of the four processes, with native forestry having the lowest biodiversity impacts, followed by plantation forestry.
The key benefit of BioImpact to the forest industry is that it will be able to comprehensively and holistically assess the biodiversity impacts of forestry operations. From the initial research testing it is very likely that the biodiversity impacts of sustainable forestry systems are significantly less than has previously been assumed.
As a result of the research LCA practitioners now have a relevant and accurate way to measure biodiversity impacts. Information about BioImpact is being communicated to the Australian LCA Society (ALCAS) with the aim of having ALCAS house the background data required for the method. The researchers have presented information about BioImpact, at international conferences and are submitting the project findings to the New Zealand Life Cycle Assessment Conference in Wellington, September 2014.