DTU the world leader within life cycle analysis of products’ environmental impact

Wednesday 22 Oct 14
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Michael Zwicky Hauschild
Professor, Deputy Head of Division, Group Leader
DTU Management
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Cradle-to-grave assessments of the environmental impact of products are central to our understanding of how we impact the environment, and how we can create a more sustainable society. According to a new article in the recognized International Journal of LCA, DTU is the world leader in this area.

Jesper Spangsmark Nielsen

 “We cannot improve what we cannot measure”. That is the simple explanation as to why research and method development in Life Cycle Assessment is so incredibly important for the future of the environment and the development of more sustainable industry, transport, energy, etc," says Professor Michael Hauschildt, Head of the Quantitative Sustainability Assessment division (QSA) at DTU Management Engineering.

Because not all that appears to be eco-friendly turns out to be so—and sometimes the large potential for improvement is not found where we expect it to be.

"For many years, QSA has been a pioneer within LCA, we have helped to define this research area and are today an international powerhouse for quantification of sustainability. Our research at DTU makes sustainability measurable and thus more relevant from a management perspective."
Søren Salomon, Head of Department, DTU Management Engineering

It all depends on how we use and manufacture things like cars, houses and clothes and what happens when we no longer want to use them.

Unfortunately, it is far from easy to calculate the overall environmental impact of a product.

"A car, for example, consists of more than 10,000 parts, each of which may have very different environmental footprints. The parts also come from many different suppliers that, in turn, have other subsuppliers. To complicate things even further, two apparently identical components do not necessarily have the same environmental impact if they are from different manufacturers, and, at the end of the day, the main environmental impact of a car originates from its use and thus—to a large extent—depends on how it is used by its owner," explains Michael Hauschild.

This means that the ability to perform the extensive calculations determining the environmental impact of a product requires in-depth understanding of primary production and mining, global production collaboration, usage patterns, disposal systems, etc. as well as continuous collection and processing of international data.

And, according to the prestigious (ISI*) International Journal of LCA, DTU outperforms all others within this rather complex type of research: A bibliometric analysis prepared by researchers at the Chinese University of Science and Technology concludes:

"…..LCA-related research has increased enormously in the past 16 years, showing a pattern of exponential growth….(and) Technical University of Denmark has been the chief core institution in the field of LCA research in the past 16 years."

According to the bibliometric analysis, DTU has published 25 per cent more articles in the best international journals than no. 2 on the list, University of California Berkely, and approximately twice as many as the average for the ten highest ranking universities. Thanks to the many articles and a high number of citations per article, DTU is also the most cited university in the world within the area.

A leading international position, which, among other things, has been achieved by the successful QSA research department at DTU Management Engineering. Søren Salomo, Head of Department, DTU Management Engineering, says:

For many years, QSA has been a pioneer within LCA, we have helped to define this research area and are today an international powerhouse for quantification of sustainability. Our research at DTU makes sustainability measurable and thus more relevant from a management perspective.

(Chen et al.: A bibliometric investigation of life cycle assessment research in the web of science databases. International Journal of LCA, DOI 10.1007/s11367-014-0777-3)