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Normalisation method and data for Environmental Footprints

In the context of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), according to ISO 14044 (ISO 2006), normalisation is an optional step of Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) which allows the practitioner expressing results after characterization using a common reference impact. This supports the comparison between alternatives using reference numerical scores. The normalisation factors express the total impact of a reference region for a certain impact category (e.g. climate change, eutrophication, etc.) in a reference year. The same applies to Environmental Footprint. This document provides normalisation factors (NFs) for the implementation of the EU Environmental Footprint (EC - European Commission, 2013). The calculation of normalisation factors is based on a refinement and update of the ‘Resource Life Cycle indicators’ dataset (EC - JRC, 2012b), used as inventory. These indicators were developed within the Life Cycle Indicators framework (EC - JRC, 2012a) in the context of the Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe, within the Flagship initiative - A resource-efficient Europe of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The aim of the Life Cycle Indicators is to monitor the environmental impacts associated with European production and consumption, as well as waste management within the EU, by including also impacts from trade (imports and exports). The Life Cycle Indicators are based on the collection of data related to territorial emission (domestic inventory) complemented with process based LCA for representative traded goods. In fact, the indicators have been designed to provide information on the environmental impacts linked to European consumption and production. The ‘apparent consumption’ approach is adopted by accounting for both the domestic extractions of resources and emissions in the EU27 as well as the impacts due to international trade (both imports and exports). For the domestic inventory, the data gaps related to emissions and resource use have been overcome adopting a series of estimation strategies (details on estimation strategies are reported in Sala et al., 2014). Both for the domestic inventory and for those resulting from modelling the trade, the ILCD set of impact assessment methods and related characterisation factors (EC- JRC, 2011) have been applied for calculating normalisation factors. The elementary flows adopted for the calculation of the normalisation factors are also derived in particular from the Life Cycle indicators for Resources (EC - JRC, 2012b). Compared to the original report, updated data for 2010 at EU 27 level and at country level has been used. In this report, the main methodological steps towards the calculation of the normalisation factors are described and discussed providing an overview of the improvements of current figures compared to existing database as well as limitations due to data gaps and extrapolations. The original goal of the study was to develop normalisation factors that are based on an apparent consumption approach as developed in the prototype life cycle indicators work. The impacts related to imported goods should be added and the impacts related to exported goods should be deducted from the domestic (territorial) figures for EU27. The consideration of international trade in normalisation factors would allow getting a more comprehensive picture of the actual environmental impacts due to EU production and consumption processes. However, the study has indicated that at present the level of methodological development and data availability, are deemed not sufficiently mature for the results of impacts associated with trade to be recommended for use as normalisation values in the context of Environmental Footprint or Life Cycle Assessments. The main reasons are: i) significant variability in the results applying different methods for selection and up-scaling of products; ii) ratio import to domestic seems to be underestimated.