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12 Estimating the Environmental Impact of Products: Life Cycle Assessment

Smog Acidification Eutrophication Toxic air, water and ground pollution Landfill sites

12.1.1 Exhaustion of Natural Resources The remaining world reserves of fossil fuels, uranium and some other resources1 give rise to serious concerns. In fact, the exhaustion of natural resources (the input of our production–consumption system) is considered to be a severe problem with regard to maintaining our production–consumption system. Using possibly depletable resources is also a crucial issue in sustainability discourse, that is, in the working hypothesis of a socio-productive model, that we should not compromise the survival and well-being of future generations. From this perspective the usage of renewable resources (materials and energy) is of great importance. Actually, it would be more correct to speak about the renewability degree and associate it with the rate of human consumption. In fact, given a couple of millennia, all resources are renewable. Thus, the renewability is understood according to the consumption, replenishing and human demand rate. In the end, we can still claim that renewable resources are not depletable, but we have to calculate how to not compromise the natural mechanisms that are behind it. Besides, the potentiality of renewable sources today is rather limited, for example, employing wind, hydroelectric or solar power still presents many economic and technological obstacles. Finally, the equation – renewable resources are clean resources – is not always valid; proper assessment criteria also have to take into account the environmental impact of the extraction and enabling access to the resources. It is enough to think about steering the rivers and deaths caused by hydroelectric dams at various times and in various places of the world. Or furthermore, the possible pollution caused by processing in order to produce biodegradable polymers.

12.1.2 Global Warming Global temperatures depend on the balance between absorbed solar radiation and infrared radiation released from Earth. The properties of some gases (carbon dioxide [CO2], chlorofluorocarbons [CFC], methane [CH4], nitrogen oxides [NOx {N2O}], 1 Theoretically, we can not run out of metals as they are always recyclable. Although actual exhaustion of mineral resources would have an heavy economic impact.

Design for Environmental Sustainability  

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