Evaluating Land-Use Impacts. Selection of Surface Area Metrics for Life-Cycle Assessment of Mining
Land use is an increasingly important component of sustainability evaluations, and numerous performance metrics have evolved to meet this need. The selection of appropriate land-use metrics for decision makers, however, remains an ongoing challenge. Additionally, life-cycle practitioners often struggle to provide meaningful impact assessment because of challenges associated with traditional land-use impact metrics. This article is intended to assist decision makers and life-cycle practitioners who wish to more effectively measure and evaluate one aspect of land use: surface area occupation. Existing performance metrics are discussed, and the specific circumstances under which each is appropriate are identified. Building on leading-edge research and analysis in the field of life-cycle impact assessment, a modified methodology for evaluating surface area occupation is proposed. This approach is demonstrated for a series of mining practices including three individual gold mines, a bauxite mine, and a copper mine. The specific data requirements and resulting equivalency factors for each mine are discussed. Results indicate that equivalency factors for gold (average of 700 acre-yr/ton) are expected to be several orders of magnitude higher than for either bauxite (0.004 acre-yr/ ton) or copper (0.03 acre-yr/ton). These dramatic differences in results demonstrate that equivalency factors are appropriate and necessary for including land-use impact potential as part of a life-cycle assessment that includes several different minerals or material requirements.