A Hybrid Approach for Assessing the Multi-Scale Impacts of Urban Resource Use: Transportation in Phoenix, Arizona

Life cycle assessment (LCA) and urban metabolism (UM) are popular approaches for urban system environmental assessment. However, both approaches have challenges when used across spatial scales. LCA tends to decompose systemic information into micro-level functional units that mask complexity and purpose, whereas UM typically equates aggregated material and energy flows with impacts and is not ideal for revealing the mechanisms or alternatives available to reduce systemic environmental risks. This study explores the value of integrating UM with LCA, using vehicle transportation in the Phoenix metropolitan area as an illustrative case study. Where other studies have focused on the use of LCA providing upstream supply-chain impacts for UM, we assert that the broader value of the integrated approach is in (1) the ability to cross scales (from micro to macro) in environmental assessment and (2) establishing an analysis that captures function and complexity in urban systems. The results for Phoenix show the complexity in resource supply chains and critical infrastructure services, how impacts accrue well beyond geopolitical boundaries where activities occur, and potential system vulnerabilities.

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