Environmental Impacts of Products:Policy Relevant Information and Data Challenges


  • Arnold Tukker,

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    • Research program manager, Innovation and Environment, at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Core Area Built Environment and Geosciences, in the Netherlands and book review editor of the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

  • Peter Eder,

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    • Research officer at the Institute of Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) of the European Commission in Seville, Spain.

  • Sangwon Suh

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    • Assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, USA, and an adjunct research fellow at Institute of Environmental Science (CML) at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

TNO Built Environment and Geosciences, PO Box 49, 2600 AA, Delft, The Netherlands <arnold.tukker@tno.nl>, <www.tno.nlg>


The research and analysis presented in this special issue shows that the same limited number of consumption categories are consistently revealed to be responsible for the largest share of environmental impact: mobility (automobile and air transport), food (meat, poultry, fish, and dairy followed by plant-based food), and residential energy use in the house (heating, cooling, electrical appliances, and lighting). It appears that differences in impact per euro between the product groupings are relatively limited, so it is essential to reduce the life-cycle impacts of products as such, rather than to shift expenditures to less impact-intensive product groupings. Furthermore, the effectiveness of expenditure on material products to improve quality of life leaves much room for improvement. Environmentally extended input-output (EEIO) tables probably form, in this field, the most appropriate information support tool for priority setting, prospective assessment of options, scenario analysis, and monitoring. A clear benefit would result from integrating the input–output (IO) tables in the report to Eurostat of the 25 individual countries that make up the European Union (EU), with other officially available information on emissions and resources use, into a 60-sector EEIO table for the EU. This, obviously, would be the first step toward more detailed tables. Three strategies are suggested to realize the additional, desirable detail of 150 sectors or more, each achievable at an increasing time horizon and with increasing effort: (1) developing further the current CEDA EU25 table; (2) building a truly European detailed input–output table accepting the restrictions of existing data gathering procedures; and (3) as (2), but developing new, dedicated data gathering and classification procedures. In all cases, a key issue is harmonizing classification systems for industry sectors, consumer expenditure categories, and product classifications (as in import/export statistics) in such a way that data sets may adequately be linked to input–output tables.