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Journal of Industrial Ecology

Insights on the Use of Hybrid Life Cycle Assessment for Environmental Footprinting

A Case Study of an Inland Marine Freight Transportation Company


Alexandra Ewing
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Vanderbilt University
VU Station B #351831
2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37235-1831.


Establishing a comprehensive environmental footprint that indicates resource use and environmental release hotspots in both direct and indirect operations can help companies formulate impact reduction strategies as part of overall sustainability efforts. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a useful approach for achieving these objectives. For most companies, financial data are more readily available than material and energy quantities, which suggests a hybrid LCA approach that emphasizes use of economic input-output (EIO) LCA and process-based energy and material flow models to frame and develop life cycle emission inventories resulting from company activities.

We apply a hybrid LCA framework to an inland marine transportation company that transports bulk commodities within the United States. The analysis focuses on global warming potential, acidification, particulate matter emissions, eutrophication, ozone depletion, and water use. The results show that emissions of greenhouse gases, sulfur, and particulate matter are mainly from direct activities but that supply chain impacts are also significant, particularly in terms of water use. Hotspots were identified in the production, distribution, and use of fuel; the manufacturing, maintenance, and repair of boats and barges; food production; personnel air transport; and solid waste disposal. Results from the case study demonstrate that the aforementioned footprinting framework can provide a sufficiently reliable and comprehensive baseline for a company to formulate, measure, and monitor its efforts to reduce environmental impacts from internal and supply chain operations.

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