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Environmental sustainability assessment from planetary boundaries perspective - A case study of an organic sheep farm in Finland

: Uusitalo, Ville; Kuokkanen, Anna; Grönman, Kaisa; Ko, Nathanael; Mäkinen, Hanna; Koistinen, Katariina


Science of the Total Environment 687 (2019), pp.168-176
ISSN: 0048-9697
ISSN: 1879-1026
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IBP ()

Food production processes may have both positive and negative environmental sustainability impacts. This makes decision-making challenging in the transition towards more sustainable food production systems. In this paper, a new method for presenting environmental impacts in the context of planetary boundaries is demonstrated. This will help food and agricultural producers compare the magnitudes of various environmental impacts. The environmental sustainability impacts of an organic sheep farm in the boreal climate zone in Finland are studied herein first using a life cycle assessment method. The results are then normalized and presented in a planetary boundary framework to ascertain the extent of different environmental impacts. The results show that in the planetary boundary context, there are positive impacts of sheep grazing on biosphere integrity (genetic diversity) and biogeochemical flows and negative impacts on climate change, land use or freshwater use. Magnitudes of the impacts greatly dependent on the assumptions made especially regarding biosphere integrity impacts. In the future, it is crucial that decision-making be based on the evaluation of various environmental impacts and that the focus be more on complex sustainability thinking, rather than on one single environmental impact. This research demonstrates that results from a life cycle assessment can be modified and presented in a planetary boundaries context. A planetary boundary framework approach similar to that proposed herein could be further used to identify different environmental sustainability perspectives and to help one better recognize the multifunctional aspects of the ecosystem processes.