Estimation of shadow prices of soil organic carbon depletion and freshwater depletion for use in LCA

  • Tom N. LigthartEmail author
  • Toon van Harmelen



The interpretation of differences between alternative systems in life cycle assessment (LCA) can be problematic when different impact categories point to different directions. Using shadow prices is one way to overcome this problem, as the results are expressed in a monetary value, making comparison easy for decision makers. However, for the International Reference Life Cycle Data System midpoint impact categories ‘water depletion’ and ‘land use’, the shadow prices were missing. In the current paper, these were derived from literature sources.


Abatement-based shadow prices (Pa) were established from the costs of the abatement measures minus the additional benefits. The damage-based shadow price (Pd) was based on the economic damage per unit of impact. Damage to ecosystems or human health was not included, as monetary values were lacking. As a consequence, Pd is an underestimation. Pa prices for land use, based on soil organic carbon (SOC) depletion, were derived from the cost of abatement measures like adding organic matter to agricultural soil or changing tillage. The response of crop yield to SOC, for several countries and crops, was used for the Pd calculation. For water depletion, Pa was based on water saving measures and desalination techniques, and Pd was based on economic losses due to water unavailability.

Results and discussion

The following shadow prices were found for SOC depletion: Pa of 0.10 € kg−1 SOC and Pd of 0.0286 € kg−1 SOC. For water depletion, Pa of 15.8 € m−3 eq. was based on replacing turf with less-water-consuming planting. The value of water for irrigation was the base for the Pd 5.17 € m−3 eq. Freshwater and SOC Pa values unexpectedly exceeded the Pd values. This originated partly from the methods used. Pd was established by averaging marginal costs, while Pa used the most expensive measure, and this may lead to Pa exceeding Pd. Furthermore, the damage-based Pd for SOC and water depletion was mainly based on crop yield, and other types of ecological or societal damage will exist. Including these damages that lacked reliable data will increase Pd.


The shadow prices presented here are the first science-based global estimates. For LCA, the Pd values should preferably be used. The values are regarded as conservative estimates since only economic damage was included as other damages like ecological damage could not be monetised. The estimated shadow prices were derived for impacts where economic data is relatively scarce, and this limited the quality of the estimates. More extensive studies are needed to further improve the quality of the estimated prices.


Abatement costs Damage costs Shadow prices Soil organic carbon Valuation Water depletion Water scarcity Weighting 



We thank Dr. Kiara Sage Winans for discussing her paper on carbon sequestration (Winans et al. 2015) with us. Hans van Trijp, the project leader of the Sustainable Packages project, and Peter Blok of KIDV are thanked for reviewing an earlier version of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11367_2019_1589_MOESM1_ESM.docx (247 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 246 kb)


  1. Agbede TM, Adekiya AO, Ogeh JS (2014) Response of soil properties and yam yield to Chromolaena odorata (Asteraceae) and Tithonia diversifolia (Asteraceae) mulches. Arch Agron Soil Sci 60(2):209–224. Google Scholar
  2. Ahlroth S (2014) The use of valuation and weighting sets in environmental impact assessment. Resour Conserv Recycl 85:34–41Google Scholar
  3. Ahlroth S, Finnveden G (2011) Ecovalue08—a new valuation set for environmental systems analysis tools. J Clean Prod 19(17–18):1994–2003Google Scholar
  4. Allan JAT (2007) Rural economic transitions: groundwater use in the Middle East and its environmental consequences. In: Giordano M, Villholth K (eds) The agricultural groundwater revolution: opportunities and threats to development. International Water Mangement Institute, Colombo, pp 63–77Google Scholar
  5. Al-Said A, Ashfaq M, Al-Barhi M, Hanjra MA, Khan I (2012) Water productivity of vegetables under modern irrigation methods in Oman. Irrig Drain 61(4):477–489Google Scholar
  6. Amy GL, Maliva RG (2014) Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) economics for wastewater reuse in low population Wadi communities, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Water 6:2322–2338Google Scholar
  7. Attero (2015) Personal communication 17-09-2015. Wilp, NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker N, Lavee D, Katz D (2010) Desalination and alternative water-shortage mitigation options in Israel: a comparative cost analysis. J Water Res Prot 02(12):1042–1056.
  9. Becker N, Helgeson J, Katz D (2014) Once there was a river: a benefit-cost analysis of rehabilitation of the Jordan River. Reg Environ Chang 14:1303–1314Google Scholar
  10. Belboom S, Léonard A (2016) Does biobased polymer achieve better environmental impacts than fossil polymer? Comparison of fossil HDPE and biobased HDPE produced from sugar beet and wheat. Biomass Bioenergy 85:159–167Google Scholar
  11. Belgapom (2015) PRIJSNOTERING AARDAPPELEN. Berlare, Belgium. Retrieved from
  12. Belgapom (2017) Price list 2000-2016—Belgapom. Retrieved from Scholar
  13. Black H, Ingram J, Joosten H, Milne E, Noellemeyer E, Baskin Y (2012) The Benefits of Soil Carbon. In UNEP year book: emerging issues in our global environment 2012. Retrieved from, pp. 19–33
  14. Boardman AE, Greenberg DH, Vining AR, Weimer DL (2017) Cost-benefit analysis. Concepts and practice (4th ed.) Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  15. Brandão M, i Canals LM (2013) Global characterisation factors to assess land use impacts on biotic production. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18(6):1243–1252Google Scholar
  16. Cai ZC, Qin SW (2006) Dynamics of crop yields and soil organic carbon in a long-term fertilization experiment in the Huang-Huai-Hai Plain of China. Geoderma 136(3–4):708–715Google Scholar
  17. CGIAR (1997) Report on the inter-centre review of root and tuber crops research in the CGIAR. Retrieved from
  18. Chen L, Pelton REO, Smith TM (2016) Comparative life cycle assessment of fossil and bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. J Clean Prod 137:667–676Google Scholar
  19. D’Hose T, Cougnon M, De Vliegher A, Vandecasteele B, Viaene N, Cornelis W, Reheul D (2014) The positive relationship between soil quality and crop production: a case study on the effect of farm compost application. Appl Soil Ecol 75:189–198Google Scholar
  20. de Adelhart Toorop R, Ouboter K, Bergman E, Scholte M, de Groot Ruiz A (2016) Integrated profit and loss. Creating shared value with integrated thinking. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: True Price. Retrieved from
  21. De Bruyn S, Korteland M, Davidson M, Bles M (2010) Shadow prices handbook: Valuation and weighting of emissions and environmental impacts, (March), 1–140. Retrieved from
  22. De Bruyn S, Ahdour S, Bijleveld M, de Graff L, Schroten A, Vergeer R (2017) Handboek Milieuprijzen 2017 Methodische onderbouwing van kengetallen gebruikt voor waardering van emissies en milieu-impacts. DelftGoogle Scholar
  23. Edwards E, Bosworth R, Adams P, Baji V, Burrows A, Gerdes C, Jones M (2017) Economic insight from Utah’s water efficiency supply curve. Water 9(3):214Google Scholar
  24. El-Shafie AF, Osama MA, Hussein MM, El-Gindy AM, Ragab R (2017) Predicting soil moisture distribution, dry matter, water productivity and potato yield under a modified gated pipe irrigation system: SALTMED model application using field experimental data. Agric Water Manag 184:221–233Google Scholar
  25. European Central Bank (2015) Indices of consumer prices. Retrieved July 22, 2015, from
  26. European Commission (2012a) Characterisation factors of the ILCD recommended life cycle impact assessment methods (1st ed.). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
  27. European Commission (2012b) Innovating for sustainable growth: a bioeconomy for Europe. Luxembourg
  28. European Commission. Decision no 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 “Living well, within the limits of our planet” (2013) Brussels: The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Retrieved from
  29. European Commission-Joint Research Centre - Institute for Environment and Sustainability (2011) ILCD handbook: Recommendations for life cycle impact assessment in the European context.
  30. FAO (1972) Effects of intensive fertilizer use on the human environment. FAO Soils Bulletin (Vol. 16).
  31. FAO (1995) Sorghum and millets in human nutrition. Retrieved from
  32. FAO (2016) Soil organic carbon (SOC) lossGoogle Scholar
  33. FAO (2017) FAO cereal supply and demand brief. Retrieved from Accessed 4 July 2017
  34. Fidar AM, Memon FA, Butler D (2017) Economic implications of water efficiency measures I: assessment methodology and cost-effectiveness of micro-components. Urban Water J 14(5):522–530Google Scholar
  35. Finnveden G, Hauschild MMZ, Ekvall T, Guinée J, Heijungs R, Hellweg S, Suh S (2009) Recent developments in life cycle assessment. J Environ Manag 91(1):1–21Google Scholar
  36. Frischknecht R, Büsser Knöpfel S (2013) Swiss eco-factors 2013 according to the ecological scarcity method. Methodological fundamentals and their application in Switzerland, 254. Retrieved from
  37. Frischknecht R, Steiner R, Jungbluth N (2009) The ecological scarcity method—eco-factors 2006. A method for impact assessment in LCA. Environmental Studies No. 0906.
  38. Galgani P, van der Voet E, Korevaar G (2014) Composting, anaerobic digestion and biochar production in Ghana. Environmental–economic assessment in the context of voluntary carbon markets. Waste Manag 34(12):2454–2465Google Scholar
  39. Giordano M, Villholth K (2007) The agricultural groundwater revolution: opportunities and threats to development. Giordano M, Villholth K (eds) Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Mangement Institute.
  40. Goedkoop M, Huijbregts M, Schryver A De Struijs J, van Zelm R (2013) ReCiPe 2008. A life cycle impact assessment method which comprises harmonised category indicators at the midpoint and the endpoint level (1st ed.) (r). The Hague: Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (VROM)Google Scholar
  41. Guinée JB, Gorrée M, Heijungs R, Huppes G, Kleijn R, de Koning A, Wegener Sleeswijk A (2001) Handbook on life cycle assessment: operational guide to the ISO standards. Kluwer Academic, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  42. Haber N, Deller B, Flaig H, Schulz E, Reinhold J (2008) Sustainable compost application in agricultureGoogle Scholar
  43. Haileslassie A, Peden D, Gebreselassie S, Amede T, Descheemaeker K (2009) Livestock water productivity in mixed crop-livestock farming systems of the Blue Nile basin: assessing variability and prospects for improvement. Agric Syst 102(1–3):33–40Google Scholar
  44. Hellegers P, Immerzeel W, Droogers P (2013) Economic concepts to address future water supply–demand imbalances in Iran, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. J Hydrol 502:62–67Google Scholar
  45. Hellweg S, Hofstetter TB, Hungerbühler K (2003) Discounting and the environment: should current impacts be weighted differently than impacts harming future generations? Int J Life Cycle Assess 8(1):8–18Google Scholar
  46. Hottle TA, Bilec MM, Landis AE (2013) Sustainability assessments of bio-based polymers. Polym Degrad Stab 98:1898–1907. Google Scholar
  47. Jeswani HK, Azapagic A, Schepelmann P, Ritthoff M (2010) Options for broadening and deepening the LCA approaches. J Clean Prod 18(2):120–127Google Scholar
  48. Joshi PK, Rao PP (2016) Global pulses consumption, production and trade scenario: trends and outlook. In International conference on pulses, Marrakesh, Morocco, 18–20 April, 2016, p 10Google Scholar
  49. Kesicki F, Strachan N (2011) Marginal abatement cost (MAC) curves: confronting theory and practice. Environ Sci Pol 14(8):1195–1204Google Scholar
  50. Knox JW, Morris J, Weatherhead EK, Turner AP (2000) Mapping the financial benefits of sprinkler irrigation and potential financial impact of restrictions on abstraction: a case-study in Anglian region. J Environ Manag 58(1):45–59Google Scholar
  51. Kounina A., Margni M, Bayart J-B, Boulay A-M, Berger M, Bulle C, … Humbert S (2013) Review of methods addressing freshwater use in life cycle inventory and impact assessment. Int J LCA 18(3):707–721.
  52. Krewitt W, Mayerhofer P, Trukenmüller A, Friedrich R (1998) Application of the impact pathway analysis in the context of LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 3(2):86–94Google Scholar
  53. Kuotsu K, Das A, Lal R, Munda GC, Ghosh PK, Ngachan SV (2014) Land forming and tillage effects on soil properties and productivity of rainfed groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.)–rapeseed (Brassica campestris L.) cropping system in Northeastern India. Soil Tillage Res 142:15–24Google Scholar
  54. Lal R (2006) Enhancing crop yields in the developing countries through restoration of the soil organic carbon pool in agricultural lands. Land Degrad Dev 17(2):197–209Google Scholar
  55. Lal R (2014) Societal value of soil carbon. J Soil Water Conserv 69(6):186–192Google Scholar
  56. Lamers P, Rosillo-Calle F, Pelkmans L, Hamelinck C (2014) Developments in international liquid biofuel trade. In: Junginger M, Goh CS, Faaij A (eds) International bioenergy trade, pp 17–40Google Scholar
  57. Land Stewardship Project (2015) Farm transitions: valuing sustainable practices—soil fertility management—value of soil organic matter. Retrieved from
  58. Layard R, Glaister S (1994) Introduction. In: Layard R, Glaister S (eds) Cost-benefit analysis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, p 1–56. Retrieved from Accessed 15 June 2018
  59. Loew A, Jaramillo P, Zhai H (2016) Marginal costs of water savings from cooling system retrofits: a case study for Texas power plants. Environ Res Lett 11(10):104004Google Scholar
  60. Logah V, Mensah NE, Tetteh FKM (2011) Soil organic carbon and crop yield under different soil amendments and cropping systems in the semi-deciduous forest zone of Ghana. J Plant Sci 6(4):65–173.
  61. Martínez-Blanco J, Lazcano C, Boldrin A, Muñoz P, Rieradevall J, Møller J, … Christensen TH (2013) Assessing the environmental benefits of compost use-on-land through an LCA perspective. In: Lichtfouse E (ed) Sustainable agriculture reviews. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, p 255–318.
  62. McKone TE, Nazaroff WW, Berck P, Auffhammer M, Lipman T, Torn MS, … Horvath A (2011) Grand challenges for life-cycle assessment of biofuels. Environ Sci Tech 45(5):1751–1756.
  63. Meyer S, Glaser B, Quicker P (2011) Technical, economical, and climate-related aspects of biochar production technologies: A literature review. Environ Sci Tech 45(22):9473–9483.
  64. Milà i Canals L, Romanyà J, Cowell SJ (2007) Method for assessing impacts on life support functions (LSF) related to the use of “fertile land” in life cycle assessment (LCA). J Clean Prod 15(15):1426–1440Google Scholar
  65. Miller Magazine (2017) World sorghum and millet market. Retrieved from
  66. Ministère de l’Agriculture de l’Agroalimentaire et de la Forêt (2015) Join the 4 ‰ Initiative: soils for food security and climateGoogle Scholar
  67. Motoshita M, Itsubo N, Inaba A (2011) Development of impact factors on damage to health by infectious diseases caused by domestic water scarcity. Int J Life Cycle Assess 16(1):65–73Google Scholar
  68. National Agricultural Statistics Service (2013) Average U.S. farm prices of selected fertilizers. USDA.
  69. Nauclér T, Enkvist P (2009) Pathways to a low-carbon economy: version 2 of the global greenhouse gas abatement cost curve, 1–192. Retrieved from
  70. OANDA (2015) Historical exchange rates. Retrieved from
  71. OECD (2005) Water consumption. In OECD FACTBOOK 2005 (pp. 136–137). Retrieved from
  72. OFX (2017) Historical exchange rates. Retrieved from
  73. Olmstead SM, Michael Hanemann W, Stavins RN (2007) Water demand under alternative price structures. J Environ Econ Manag 54(2):181–198Google Scholar
  74. Pearce DW, Howarth A (2001) Technical report on methodology: cost benefit analysis and policy responses. BilthovenGoogle Scholar
  75. Peer RAM, Sanders KT (2016) Characterizing cooling water source and usage patterns across US thermoelectric power plants: a comprehensive assessment of self-reported cooling water data. Environ Res Lett 11(12):124030Google Scholar
  76. Pérez Blanco C, Thaler T (2014) An input-output assessment of water productivity in the Castile and León region (Spain). Water 6(4):929–944Google Scholar
  77. Pizzol M, Weidema B, Brandão M, Osset P (2015) Monetary valuation in life cycle assessment: a review. J Clean Prod 86:170–179Google Scholar
  78. Pizzol M, Laurent A, Sala S, Weidema B, Verones F, Koffler C (2017) Normalisation and weighting in life cycle assessment: quo vadis? Int J Life Cycle Assess 22(6):853–866Google Scholar
  79. Pribyl DW (2010) A critical review of the conventional SOC to SOM conversion factor. Geoderma 156(3–4):75–83Google Scholar
  80. Pronk A, Bijttebier J, Ten Berge H, Ruysschaert G, Hijbeek R, Rijk B, Verhagen A (2015) List of drivers and barriers governing soil management by farmers, including cost aspects. WageningenGoogle Scholar
  81. Quansah C, Drechsel P, Yirenkyi BB, Asante-Mensah S (2001) Farmers’ perceptions and management of soil organic matter—a case study from West Africa. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 61:205–213Google Scholar
  82. Reuveny R (2007) Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict. Polit Geogr 26(6):656–673Google Scholar
  83. Rey D, Holman IP, Daccache A, Morris J, Weatherhead EK, Knox JW (2016) Modelling and mapping the economic value of supplemental irrigation in a humid climate. Agric Water Manag 173:13–22Google Scholar
  84. Roïz J, Paquot M (2013) Life cycle assessment of a biobased chainsaw oil made on the farm in Wallonia. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18(8):1485–1501Google Scholar
  85. Schipfer F, Kranzl L, Leclère D, Sylvain L, Forsell N, Valin H (2017) Advanced biomaterials scenarios for the EU28 up to 2050 and their respective biomass demand. Biomass Bioenergy 96:19–27Google Scholar
  86. Sierra J, Causeret F, Diman JL, Publicol M, Desfontaines L, Cavalier A, Chopin P (2015) Observed and predicted changes in soil carbon stocks under export and diversified agriculture in the Caribbean. The case study of Guadeloupe. Agric Ecosyst Environ 213:252–264Google Scholar
  87. Spiegel H, Zavattaro L, Guzmán G, D’Hose T, Pecio A, Lehtinen T, Grignani C (2015) Impacts of soil management practices on crop productivity, on indicators for climate change mitigation, and on the chemical, physical and biological quality of soil (Vol. D3.371). Retrieved from
  88. Stec A, Kordana S, Słyś D (2017) Analysing the financial efficiency of use of water and energy saving systems in single-family homes. J Clean Prod 151:193–205Google Scholar
  89. Tilmant A, Kinzelbach W, Juizo D, Beevers L, Senn D, Casarotto C (2012) Economic valuation of benefits and costs associated with the coordinated development and management of the Zambezi River Basin. Water Policy 14(3):490–508Google Scholar
  90. Tofigh AA, Najafpour GD (2012) Technical and economical evaluation of desalination processes for potable water from seawater. Middle-East J Sci Res 12(1):42–45Google Scholar
  91. Turbé A, De Toni A, Benito P, Lavelle P, Lavelle P, Camacho NR, Mudgal S (2010) Soil biodiversity: functions, threats and tools for policy makers. Retrieved from
  92. van Beek C, Tóth G (eds) (2010) Risk assessment methodologies of soil threats in Europe—status and options for harmonization. Luxembourg: European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and SustainabilityGoogle Scholar
  93. van Harmelen T, Korenromp R, van Deutekom C, Ligthart T, van Leeuwen S, van Gijlswijk R (2007) The price of toxicity. Methodology for the assessment of shadow prices for human toxicity, ecotoxicity and abiotic depletion. In: Huppes G, Ishikawa M (eds) Quantified eco-efficiency. Springer International Publishing, Dordrecht, 105–125.
  94. VAR B.V. (2012) Acceptatietarieven en -voorwaarden en verkoopprijzen VAR Biogeen – Compostering Per 1 januari 2012. VAR B.V.Google Scholar
  95. Vlaco vzw (2012) Ecologische en economische voordelen gft- en groencompost. Mechelen, Belgium. Retrieved from
  96. Water UK (2017) Temporary use bans. Retrieved from
  97. Watson IC, Morin OJ, Henthorne L (2003) Desalting handbook for planners. Desalination Research and Development Program Report No. 72 (3rd ed.). Denver, CO: Bureau of ReclamationGoogle Scholar
  98. Winans KS, Tardif AS, Lteif AE, Whalen JK (2015) Carbon sequestration potential and cost-benefit analysis of hybrid poplar, grain corn and hay cultivation in southern Quebec, Canada. Agrofor Syst 89(3):421–433Google Scholar
  99. World Bank (2017) World development indicators: water productivity, total. Retrieved from
  100. (2017) World corn production 2016/2017. Retrieved from
  101. (2017) Soybean production 2016/2017. Retrieved from
  102. WWAP (2003) Water for people, water for lifeGoogle Scholar
  103. WWAP (2015) Facing the challenges. Case studies and indicators. World water. UNESCO, Paris, FranceGoogle Scholar
  104. Zanen M, Bokhorst JG, ter Berg C, Koopmans CJ (2008) Investeren tot in de bodem. Evaluatie van het proefveld Mest Als KansGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TNOUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.TI Food and NutritionWageningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations