On the Use of Life Cycle Assessment to Improve Agronomists’ Knowledge and Skills toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems

  • Alessandro Cerutti Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Sustainability, University of Torino, Italy.
  • Dario Padovan
  • Sander Bruun
  • Dario Donno
  • Gabriele Beccaro


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.


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Original Papers