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In the Spotlight: Amber Li

Apr 29, 2015

Amber is working at the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT).

The topic of your research project is “Footprint Indicators in Sustainability Communication”. You’ve been working on it for some time now – how is your work progressing? What do you plan to do over the next 6 months?

The project sounds really ambitious with that title. The first thing I had to do was to narrow down my focus and formulate a practical research plan under the help of my supervisors from VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and my professor from the University of Helsinki. The objective of my project is about Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methodology development for forest-related land use issues. It is an interdisciplinary project that aims to integrate Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) framework with the forest sector and its related land use impacts on ecosystem services, while I only have knowledge and experience of sustainability assessment.

The first phase was not to study about forestry, but to conduct literature review for knowing the state-of-the-art of land use impact assessment in LCA, finding the knowledge gaps, and thinking over a practical plan to progress.  The cause-effect chains between land use and forest ecosystem is complicated and they interact with each other. The usage of land for forest will have impacts on climate change, biodiversity and natural resource depletion.  My project will mainly focus on natural resource depletion and climate change aspects.

The second phase was developing a LCIA method and indicators for addressing impacts on natural resource depletion. The human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) approach was picked to illustrate how forest practice would induce bioproductive land depletion.  Finnish forest inventory data, Finnish meteorological data and vegetation model were used. To learn more about HANPP, I did my secondment at the Institute of Social Ecology, Klagenfurt University, in Vienna. The calculation still needs final revision.

For the next 6 months, I will write a paper about the results and outputs from the second phase. Then I will start working on the climate change aspect, modifying a LCIA method for assessing land use impact on climate change.   

Why did this exact topic interest you?

The topic is composed of two parts: sustainability assessment and forest management. LCA is the most operational technique I think for sustainability assessment and sustainability communication. However LCA was initially designed for industrial processes, and land use and biosphere were only roughly mentioned there. As a person who decided to become a LCA specialist, I am interested in broadening the application of LCA.

On the other hand, bioeconomy is a hot spot today, now that whole societies are shifting from fossil fuels to biomass.  But I am a little bit worried about the boom in biomass-related industry, considering the intensive land use that corresponds to it. Land is the foundation of human society, which not only has the provision function for material and energy resources, but also has the regulating capacity of ecosystem services and provides space for human activities. Additionally, along with the on-going world population growth trend and increasing consumption of raw materials, the earth’s biologically productive land will become a scarce resource.  So how to use land efficiently and sustainably is really an interesting topic to study.

What would you like to do after the CASTLE project has finished?

Since my CASTLE project will come out with a new LCIA method, I would like to work as a consultant to help companies or other entities in improving their sustainability performance, particularly in the biomass sector. Working for the environmental management department of a company can also be a choice, so that I can examine how the method will work in real cases. After several years of working in the industry, maybe I will come back to the research field again.

What are your thoughts on the CASTLE project so far, and the training courses in particular?

I appreciate  the chance to be part of the CASTLE project. It is such a unique PhD program with an innovative connection between research and market needs. Each of us (ESRs) was employed by a company but we  enrolled as doctoral students at the same time, so that our projects were initially designed under real needs and with sound scientific support.

There are nine CASTLE trainings altogether, elaborated with diverse content and good practical arrangements. Additionally, during each training, we also have the occasion  for the “ CASTLE family”(the 14 of us) to get together to update each other on our progress and to share ideas. Thanks to all those who work hard for organizing  all of the trainings for us.