Assessing catchment scale water quality of agri-food systems and the scope for reducing unintended consequences using spatial life cycle assessment (LCA)

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

McAuliffe, G. A., Zhang, Y. and Collins, A. L. 2022. Assessing catchment scale water quality of agri-food systems and the scope for reducing unintended consequences using spatial life cycle assessment (LCA). Journal of Environmental Management. 318 (15 Sept), p. 115563.

AuthorsMcAuliffe, G. A., Zhang, Y. and Collins, A. L.

Life cycle assessment is a multidisciplinary framework usually deployed to appraise the sustainability of various product or service supply-chains. Over recent decades, its use in the agri-food sector has risen sharply, and alongside this, a wide range of methodological advances have been generated. Spatial-life cycle assessment, defined in the current document as the interpretation of life cycle assessment results within a geographical nature, has not gone unexplored entirely, yet its rise as a sub-method of life cycle assessment has been rather slow relative to other avenues of research (e.g., including the nutritional sciences within life cycle assessment). With this relative methodological stagnation as a motivating factor, our paper combines a process-based model, the Catchment Systems Model, with various life cycle impact assessments (ReCiPe, Centre for Environmental Studies and Environmental Product Declaration) to propose a simple, yet effective, approach for visualising the technically feasible efficacy of various on-farm intervention strategies. As water quality was the primary focus of this study, interventions reducing acidification and eutrophication potentials of both arable and livestock farm types in the Southeast of England were considered. The study site is an area with a marked range of agricultural practices in terms of intensity. All impacts to acidification potential and eutrophication potential are reported using a functional unit of 1 ha. Percentage changes relative to baseline farm types, i.e., those without any interventions, arising from various mitigation strategies, are mapped using geographical information systems. This approach demonstrates visually how a spatially-orientated life cycle assessment could provide regional-specific information for farmers and policymakers to guide the restoration of certain waterbodies. A combination of multiple mitigation strategies was found to generate the greatest reductions in pollutant losses to water, but in terms of individual interventions, optimising farm-based machinery (acidification potential) and fertiliser application strategies (eutrophication potential) were found to have notable benefits.

KeywordsAgricultural systems; Environmental impacts; Hybrid LCA; Best management interventions; Geographical information systems; GIS
Year of Publication2022
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Journal citation318 (15 Sept), p. 115563
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Web address (URL)
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Funder project or codeS2N - Soil to Nutrition - Work package 2 (WP2) - Adaptive management systems for improved efficiency and nutritional quality
S2N - Soil to Nutrition - Work package 3 (WP3) - Sustainable intensification - optimisation at multiple scales
Publisher's version
Copyright license
CC BY 4.0
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online29 Jun 2022
Publication process dates
Accepted17 Jun 2022
PublisherAcademic Press Ltd- Elsevier Science Ltd

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