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Resource Footprints are Good Proxies of Environmental Damage

Author: Steinmann, Z.J.N. · Schipper, A.M. · Hauck, M. · Giljum, S. · Wernet, G. · Huijbregts, M.A.J.
Publisher: American Chemical Society
Source:Environmental Science and Technology, 11, 51, 6360-6366
Identifier: 777355
doi: doi:10.1021/acs.est.7b00698
Keywords: Environment · Biodiversity · Environmental technology · Forestry · Fuels · Environmental damage · Environmental footprints · Fossil fuel combustion · Human health · Human health damages · Resource use · Environmental impact · Environment & Sustainability · Urbanisation · 2015 Urban Mobility & Environment · CAS - Climate, Air and Sustainability · ELSS - Earth, Life and Social Sciences


Environmental footprints are increasingly used to quantify and compare environmental impacts of for example products, technologies, households, or nations. This has resulted in a multitude of footprint indicators, ranging from relatively simple measures of resource use (water, energy, materials) to integrated measures of eventual damage (for example, extinction of species). Yet, the possible redundancies among these different footprints have not yet been quantified. This paper analyzes the relationships between two comprehensive damage footprints and four resource footprints associated with 976 products. The resource footprints accounted for >90% of the variation in the damage footprints. Human health damage was primarily associated with the energy footprint, via emissions resulting from fossil fuel combustion. Biodiversity damage was mainly related to the energy and land footprints, the latter being mainly determined by agriculture and forestry. Our results indicate that relatively simple resource footprints are highly representative of damage to human health and biodiversity. © 2017 American Chemical Society.