University of Calgary

Dr. Assefa on sustainability assessment of product systems, services and structures

Submitted by jwalla on Mon, 2012/09/24 - 8:32am.

If we are to communicate results of environmental assessments of product systems to end-users in a meaningful way, we should at least give the assessment an economic and social context. Behind my current research areas lies the expanded gist of life cycle perspective covering environmental, social and economic performance of products systems, services and structures also known as life cycle sustainability assessment.

Over the last ten plus years my objects of research included buildings, waste management systems, energy systems focusing on biomass, household metabolism (sustainable consumption), and low carbon investment.  Life cycle assessment, life cycle costing, social life cycle assessment, material and substance flow analysis, technology assessment and built environment assessment are the tools employed to assess these objects. Sustainability assessment linked with industrial ecology is the common framework of my research areas.

ORWARE is one of the first computer-based LCA oriented models of environmental systems analysis of waste management developed in Sweden as a support for municipal waste management decision- making. I expanded the model with new sub-models developed for the technologies of steam reforming, catalytic combustion and flame combustion for use as a technology assessment tool. Social sustainability is where I advanced further the hitherto environmental and economic assessment of the model by adding the social dimension by approaching it from the perspective of social acceptance through a case study on municipal energy technologies. This work was pioneering in the sense that it was done in an engineering research platform where social dimensions were barely considered.

EcoEffect is a computer-based tool for assessing the external environmental impact (life cycle) and internal environmental quality (indoor and outdoor) of a building property simultaneously. I have led the work on normalization values, assessment of impacts of material and energy use, characterization of cause-effect chains of climate change, ozone depletion and ground-level ozone formation, and the development of the weighting method used in the tool. In the area of household metabolism, the development of a web-based tool called EcoRunner for supporting purchasing decisions involved the use of household expenditure data from statistics and LCA based data for carbon, nitrogen and energy turnover associated with different goods and services consumed.  This was the first of its kind to combine economic and environmental data and show the environmental impact of households’ spending on a variety of products and services from individual food items, to cosmetics and transportation, housing etc.  I was responsible for developing the LCA model linked with the expenditure data ready for the web-based implementation.

Since I joined EVDS three years ago my research works (including of my students) focusing on buildings, waste management, biomass resource and energy systems are funded by NSERC, Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions, FPInnovations and ISEEE (Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy). I have had international research collaboration and experience covering Europe, Africa and North America. I am working in review panels of LCA studies and the development of Product Category Rules (PCRs), and recently in an international effort of developing guidance document for PCRs.

Dr. Getachew Assefa is an Associate Professor, Athena Chair in Life Cycle Assessment at EVDS and Fellow of ISEEE.

For more Faculty research, click here.