On the Use of Life Cycle Assessment to Improve Agronomists’ Knowledge and Skills toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems
Purpose. In agricultural and forestry sciences higher education, environmental sustainability is most often taught through the discussion of examples of green agricultural practices, such as precision farming, and more rarely by taking a more general point of departure in environmental assessment methods, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Nevertheless, we think that teaching LCA in the agronomists’ curriculum might significantly contribute to enhance students’ systemic perspective on agricultural sustainability. The purpose of this paper is to highlight which additional knowledge and skills may be given to agronomists thorough the teaching of LCA.
Design/Methodology/Approach. We designed two short courses focused on LCA to be followed by students at the Bachelor´s degree in Agronomy (University of Turin, Italy) and at the Master´s degree in Sustainability of Agro-food Networks (UNESCO Chair for Sustainable Development, Turin, Italy). After the courses, students filled in a questionnaire about their opinions on the usefulness and value taken from the short courses.
Findings. From students’ answers in the questionnaire and their comments during both teaching sessions, it was possible to point out four key aspects acquired by students during the courses:
(I) Complexity of agricultural systems. Application of LCA requires to describe the energy flows and material cycles of the system under study and to decide the allocation of environmental impacts to specific phases of the production. (II) Systemic view of the farms. The need to identify boundaries between technical and natural systems for impact assessment highlights the strong interconnection between the two of them.
(III) The problem of efficiency. The application of LCA may highlight that productions that are efficient from an agronomic point of view may not be as efficient from an environmental point of view. (IV) Conceptions about sustainable agriculture. During the group work, students were asked to highlight (if possible) the paradigm of sustainability of the authors of the scientific papers and to discuss it. This way, they were able to reflect on the complexity of the concept on environmental sustainability.
Practical Implications. Teaching LCA in an interactive course, agronomists discussed pivotal concepts for environmental sustainability, such as system thinking, the problem of efficiency as well as conceptions about sustainable agriculture. All of these aspects reflect positively on the professional life of the agronomists, even if they will not apply any environmental impact methods in their future careers.
Originality/Value. This paper describes a pioneer research in which LCA is used as a pure educational tool for understanding the environmental efficiency of agricultural systems, but also founding concepts of environmental sustainability in the agricultural sector.
Arrigoni, A., Colombo, C., Ruggieri, O., Dotelli, G., Ruggieri, G., Sabbadini, S., & Melià, P. (2014). LCA di materiali isolanti in calcecanapulo per edilizia sostenibile. Proceeeding of “VIII Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Firenze, Italy, 104-115.
Audsley, E., Alber, S., Clift, R., Cowell, S., Crettaz, P., Gaillard, G., Hausheer, J., Jolliet, O., Kleijn, R., Mortensen, B., Pearce, D., Roger, E., Teulon, H., Weidema, B., van Zeijts, H., (1997). Harmonisation of Environmental Life Cycle Assessment for Agriculture. Final Report, Concerted Action AIR3-CT94-2028, European Commission DG VI, Brussels, Belgium.
Ayres, R., van den Berrgh, J., & Gowdy, J. (2001). Strong versus weak sustainability. Environmental Ethics, 23(2), 155-168.
Azapagic, A., Perdan, S., & Shallcross, D. (2005). How much do engineering students know about sustainable development? The findings of an international survey and possible implications for the engineering curriculum. European Journal of Engineering Education, 30(1), 1-19.
Baumann, H., & Tillman, A. M. (2004). The Hitch Hiker's Guide to LCA. An orientation in life cycle assessment methodology and application.
Bergeå, O., Karlsson, R., Hedlund-Åström, A., Jacobsson, P., & Luttropp, C. (2006). Education for sustainability as a transformative learning process: a pedagogical experiment in EcoDesign doctoral education. Journal of cleaner production, 14(15), 1431-1442.
Binswanger, M. (2001). Technological progress and sustainable development: what about the rebound effect?.Ecological economics, 36(1), 119-132.
Carroll, S. B. (2005). Endless forms most beautiful: The new science of evo devo and the making of the animal kingdom (No. 54). WW Norton & Company.
Cerutti, A. K., Bruun, S., Donno, D., Beccaro, G. L. & Bounous, G. (2013). Environmental sustainability of traditional foods: the case of ancient apple cultivars in Northern Italy assessed by multifunctional LCA. Journal of Cleaner Production, 52, 245-252.
Cerutti, A. K., Beccaro, G. L., Bruun, S., Bosco, S., Donno, D., Notarnicola, B., & Bounous, G. (2014). Life cycle assessment application in the fruit sector: state of the art and recommendations for environmental declarations of fruit products. Journal of Cleaner Production, 73, 125-135.
Cerutti, A. K., Contu, S., Ardente, F., Donno, D., & Beccaro, G. L. (2016). Carbon footprint in green public procurement: Policy evaluation from a case study in the food sector. Food Policy, 58, 82-93.
Coltro, L., Mourad, A. L., Kletecke, R. M., Mendonça, T. A., & Germer, S. P. (2009). Assessing the environmental profile of orange production in Brazil. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 14(7), 656-664.
Creswell, J.W. (1998) Qualitative inquiry and research design. Choosing among five traditions. Sage publications, London.
Dale, A., Newman, L., 2005. Sustainable development, education and literacy. Int. J. Sustain. High. Educ. 6 (4), 351e362.
Goodland, R., & Daly, H. (1996). Environmental sustainability: universal and non-negotiable. Ecological Applications 6 (4), 1002-1017.
Hansen, S. (2007). Feasibility study of performing a life cycle assessment on crude palm oil production in Malaysia (9 pp). The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 12(1), 50-58.
Harun, Z., Hashim, H., Saibani, N., & Mahmood, W. (2015) Effectiveness of teaching technics in sustainability topics. Journal of Engineering Science and Technology. Special Issue on UKM Teaching and Learning Congress 2013, June, 61 - 67
Hauschild, M. Z., & Huijbregts, M. A. (2015). Life Cycle Impact Assessment. LCA Compendium–The Complete World of Life Cycle Assessment. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Holmberg, J., Svanström, M., Peet, D. J., Mulder, K., Ferrer-Balas, D., & Segalàs, J. (2008). Embedding sustainability in higher education through interaction with lecturers: Case studies from three European technical universities. European Journal of Engineering Education, 33(3), 271-282.
Ikerd, J., E. (1993). “The need for a system approach to sustainable agriculture” Agriculture, ecosystems and environment, vol. 46, pp. 147-160.
Kagawa, F. (2007). Dissonance in students' perceptions of sustainable development and sustainability: Implications for curriculum change. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 8(3), 317-338.
Karsten, H. D., & O Connor, R. E. (2002). Lessons learned from teaching an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on sustainable agriculture science and policy. Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 31, 111-116.
Kinakh, V. (2015) Supporting change for sustainability in Dentistry. Visions for Sustainability, In PRESS, DOI: 10.7401/visions.04.02.
La Rosa, A.D., Siracusa, G., Cavallaro, R., (2008). Emergy evaluation of Sicilian red orange production. A comparison between organic and conventional farming. Journal of Cleaner Production 16, 1907e1914.
Liu, Y., Langer, V., Høgh-Jensen, H., & Egelyng, H. (2010). Life cycle assessment of fossil energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in Chinese pear production. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(14), 1423-1430.
Lozano, F. J., & Lozano, R. (2014). Developing the curriculum for a new Bachelor's degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development. Journal of Cleaner Production, 64, 136-146.
Lozano, R. (2010). Diffusion of sustainable development in universities’ curricula: an empirical example from Cardiff University. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(7), 637-644.
Lozano, R., Ceulemans, K., & Seatter, C. S. (2014). Teaching organisational change management for sustainability: designing and delivering a course at the University of Leeds to better prepare future sustainability change agents. Journal of Cleaner Production.
Lund, T., Francis, C., Pederson, K., Lieblein, G., & Rahman, M. H. (2014). Translating Knowledge into Action at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB). The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 20(5), 537-554.
Masset, G., Vieux, F. & Darmon, N. (2015). Which functional unit to identify sustainable foods? Public health nutrition, 1-10.
McGibbon, C., & Van Belle, J. P. (2015). Integrating environmental sustainability issues into the curriculum through problem-based and project-based learning: a case study at the University of Cape Town.
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 16, 81-88.
Mila i Canals, L., Burnip, G.M., Cowell, S.J., (2006). Evaluation of the environmental impacts of apple production using life cycle assessment (LCA): case study in New Zealand. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 114, 226-238.
Mila i Canals, L., Cowell, S.J., Sim, S., Basson, L., (2007). Comparing domestic versus imported apples: a focus on energy use. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 14, 338-344.
Mouron, P., Nemecek, T., Scholz, R.W., Weber, O., (2006). Management influence on environmental impacts in a apple production system on Swiss fruit farms: combining life cycle assessment with risk assessment. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 114, 311e322.
Neri, E., Rossetti, F., Rugani, B., Niccolucci, V., Bastianoni, S., & Marchettini, N. (2012). Life Cycle Assessment ed eMergy applicate al confronto tra sistemi di produzione biologica e convenzionale. Proceeeding of “VI Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Bari, Italy, 144-153.
Niccolucci, V., Galli, A., Kitzes, J., Pulselli, R. M., Borsa, S., & Marchettini, N. (2008). Ecological footprint analysis applied to the production of two Italian wines. Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 128(3), 162-166.
Notarnicola, B., Salomone, R., Petti, L., Renzulli, P. A., Roma, R., & Cerutti, A. K. (Eds.). (2015). Life Cycle Assessment in the Agri-food Sector: Case Studies, Methodological Issues and Best Practices. Springer.
Padovan, D., Martini, F., & Cerutti, A. K. (2015). Social Practices of Ordinary Consumption: An Introduction to Household Metabolism. J Socialomics, 4(119), 2167-0358.
Page G. (2009). An environmentally-based systems approach to sustainability analyses of organic fruit production systems in New Zealand. PhD Thesis. Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, 2009
Parr, D. M., & Trexler, C. J. (2011). Students’ experiential learning and use of student farms in sustainable agriculture education. Journal of Natural Resources & Life Sciences Education, 40(1), 172-180.
Patrizi, N., Pulselli, R., M., Tosti, L., Pulselli, F., M., & Bastianoni, S. (2012). Analisi del ciclo di vita di un sistema di giardino verticale. Proceeeding of “VI Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Bari, Italy, 79-86.
Pirilli, M., Falcone, G., & Strano, A. (2012). La formazione dell’inventario per l’LCA nei confronti fra processi produttivi agricoli nella clementinicoltura in Calabria. Proceeeding of “VI Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Bari, Italy, 104-111.
Recanati, F., Melià, P., Dotelli, G., & Castelletti, A. (2014). Conciliare sicurezza alimentare e impatti ambientali: Water Footprint di scenari di produzione agricola nella Striscia di Gaza. Proceeeding of “VIII Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Firenze, Italy, 176-182.
Reganold J.P., Glover P.K., Andrews P.K., Hinman H.R. (2001) Sustainability of three apple production systems, Nature 410, 926-929.
Ruini, L., & Marino, M. (2009). Analisi del ciclo di vita della pasta a marchio Barilla. Proceeeding of the “Convegno scientifico della Rete Italiana LCA” Palermo, Italy, 63-69.
Sala, S., Farioli, F., & Zamagni, A. (2013). Life cycle sustainability assessment in the context of sustainability science progress (part 2). The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 18(9), 1686-1697.
Schau, E. M., & Fet, A. M. (2008). LCA studies of food products as background for environmental product declarations. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 13(3), 255-264.
Secchi, M., Castellani, V., Collina, E., & Mirabella, N., (2013). LCA dell’utilizzo di un ingrediente naturale nelle formulazioni cosmetiche. Proceeeding of “VII Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Milano, Italy, 307-313.
Segalas, J., Ferrer-Balas, D., & Mulder, K. F. (2010). What do engineering students learn in sustainability courses? The effect of the pedagogical approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(3), 275-284.
Sibbel, A., (2009). Pathways towards sustainability through higher education. Int. J. Sustain. High. Educ. 10 (1), 68e82.
Silverman, D. (2000) Doing qualitative research. A practical guide. Sage publication, London.
van der Werf, H. M., Garnett, T., Corson, M. S., Hayashi, K., Huisingh, D., & Cederberg, C. (2014). Towards eco-efficient agriculture and food systems: theory, praxis and future challenges. Journal of Cleaner Production, 73, 1-9.
van der Werf, H., M., & Salou, T., (2015). Economic value as a functional unit for environmental labelling of food and other consumer products. Journal of Cleaner Production, 94, 394-397.
Viegas, C. V., Bond, A. J., Vaz, C. R., Borchardt, M., Pereira, G. M., Selig, P. M., & Varvakis, G. (2016). Critical attributes of Sustainability in Higher Education: a categorisation from literature review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 126, 260-276.
Vitali, A., Grossi, G., Nardone, A., & Lacetera, N. (2013). Analisi del ciclo di vita di latte bovino ad alta qualità prodotto in centro Italia. Caso studio. Proceeeding of “VII Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Milano, Italy, 66-72.
Wells, P., Bristowa, G., Nieuwenhuis, P., Christensen, T.B., 2009. The role of academia in regional sustainability initiatives: Wales. J. Clean. Prod. 17, 1116e1122.
Whitehead, J., & McNiff, J. (2006) Action research: living theory. London: Sage publications.
Wiedenhoeft, M., Simmons, S., Salvador, R., McAndrews, G., Francis, C., King, J., & Hole, D. (2003). Agroecosystems analysis from the grass roots: A multidimensional experiential learning course. Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 32, 73-79.
Zamagni, A., Porta, P., Masoni P., Savini, L., Silvagni, L., di Ruocco, V. (2013). L’ analisi del ciclo di vita dello zucchero Zefiro. Proceeeding of “VII Convegno della Rete Italiana LCA” Milano, Italy, 59-65.