What are environmental impacts?

It is true that carbon footprints play a significant role in today’s business world. Reducing your carbon emissions is seen as the ultimate form of sustainability, but is this really true? Haven’t we fallen into some sort of climate tunnel vision, causing us to lose sight of the bigger picture? Let us explain the dangers to the overall environment of over-focusing on only climate change and how Root does account for the entire environmental footprint.

PUBLISHED: 28 July 2022

WRITTEN BY: Gijs de Mol

Climate change versus environmental change: what is the difference?

Simply put, climate change is a subset of environmental change. Where climate change solely addresses a single issue, namely the impact of atmospheric processes, environmental change covers the bigger picture, namely all processed processes that can affect the environment. Before we dive deeper into the environmental impacts, it is important to mention that climate change has a significant share in the total environmental footprint. However, other environmental impacts may be ‘forgotten’ when over-focusing on climate change mitigation, leading to negative side effects. For instance, switching to bio-based resources can have a positive effect on your emitted emissions during production. But if you look at the bigger picture, you might have caused other harmful environmental impacts somewhere else in the life cycle of your products. Think about things such as disruptive effects on land use and local ecosystems i.e. biodiversity. Therefore, a holistic approach is essential for an effective approach towards a sustainable future. Life Cycle Assessment, on which we will elaborate later, is the ultimate tool for this.

Why should I focus on all environmental impacts?

The answer to this question is actually quite simple: because you have to! In the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)a new EU legislation that becomes effective for the 2023 financial year, all large companies have to publish regular reports on their environmental and social impact activities. Environmental reporting standards and regulations have been constituted for:

–    Climate change 
–    Pollution 
–    Water and marine resources 
–    Biodiversity and ecosystems 
–    Resource use and circular economy

Although this now only applies to large enterprises, it will not be long before all companies have to comply with these standards. Hence, it is wise to take preventive action now, so you are covered for the future.

How does Life Cycle Assessment address all environmental impacts?

The most accurate method for understanding all environmental impacts of products, services and systems is LCA. By using a Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) method, reference data from a Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) database is converted into various environmental impact categories. At Root, we have used the ReCiPe method for LCIA and the Ecoinvent LCI database. To help you gain a better understanding on how the different environmental impacts are calculated  by means of LCA, we will elaborate on the ReCiPe methodology.

There are two common ways to derive characterisation factors for LCIA, namely at midpoint level and at endpoint level. ReCiPe calculates 18 midpoint indicators and 3 endpoint indicators. The figure below gives an overview of the structure of ReCiPe. Relationship between LCI parameters (left), midpoint indicator (middle) and endpoint indicator (right).

Infografic about environmental damage

There are two common ways to derive characterisation factors for LCIA, namely at midpoint level and at endpoint level. ReCiPe calculates 18 midpoint indicators and 3 endpoint indicators. Midpoint indicators focus on individual environmental problems, for example climate change or acidification. Endpoint indicators show the environmental impact at three higher aggregation levels, namely 1) impact on human health, 2) biodiversity and 3) resource scarcity. The conversion of midpoints into endpoints simplifies the interpretation of the LCIA results, which makes it easier for you to report on the impact categories displayed in the CSRD.

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