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What is environmental impact?

Environmental impact is any effect generated by human activity on the natural environment, which, in general terms, is negative as it harms the normal functioning of ecosystems.

Nature is complex, and human activity is as well, so addressing harmony between both systems is a priority to advance towards a more sustainable society. Air pollution in the form of CO₂ emissions and other greenhouse gases causes climate change, which is one of the most urgent global issues that requires mitigation. Sulfur emissions lead to acid rain, damaging forests and construction materials. Toxins used in various materials pose a danger to both ecosystems and human health, causing illnesses and a decline in people's quality of life. The depletion of non-renewable resources is primarily an economic issue but also an ecological one because difficulty in accessing scarce raw materials results in increased energy consumption and greater harm to ecosystems. Through Life Cycle Assessment, it is possible to calculate these impacts to first identify their sources and thus apply effective and targeted strategies for their reduction.

Understanding some of the different environmental impacts

Global warming:

It is the increase in global temperatures due to the enhanced greenhouse effect caused by massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels used for transportation and energy production are one of the main sources of emissions, along with deforestation and livestock. The Global Warming category quantifies the product's carbon footprint in Kg CO₂ equivalent. It is considered a generic sustainability indicator because climate change is the environmental impact with the broadest cross-cutting repercussions. However, there are other environmental impacts that are equally important and are also taken into account in the impact analysis.

Ozone layer depletion (Kg CFC-11 eq):

It is the destruction of the stratospheric O3 that forms the ozone layer that protects us from the harmful rays of the sun. The main causes of ozone depletion are CFCs present in refrigerant gases, foaming agents, and aerosols, which have fortunately been regulated for decades and are being phased out. This impact could be a clear example of how, with determination, it is possible to reverse negative impacts.


The variation in air pH caused by acidifying emissions such as SO2 leads to acid rain that affects ecosystems and degrades structures. Its main source is fossil fuels used in both transportation and power plants. One of its characteristics is being a "long-distance" impact since gases move through air currents and accumulate, affecting northern latitudes.


Eutrophication is the over-enrichment of water due to the input of nitrates and phosphates, primarily from intensive agriculture, leading to the proliferation of green algae that depletes available oxygen and the capacity to support life. Fertilizers and other nitrogen and phosphorus-based compounds, when discharged into bodies of water, trigger massive algae growth, which in turn depletes oxygen and pollutes aquatic ecosystems. Industrial agriculture, livestock farming, and the decomposition of organic matter are closely related to this impact.

Photochemical Smog:

The dark fog that envelops cities and industrial areas, caused by the emissions of NOx and VOC, affects both human and plant respiration. It has a significant impact on people's health and also on vegetation because it reduces their ability to photosynthesize. This impact is localized to the emission area since dispersion through air currents reduces its effect.

Land Use Change:

This is a developing impact indicator but crucial for preventing biodiversity loss and deforestation. It considers the occupation, remodeling, and management of land for human purposes, which implies potential ecosystem destruction. Therefore, it quantifies the use of natural land hectares and their transformation into socio-economic environments.

Mineral Depletion:

Non-renewable resources can be scarce, and their extraction has an impact on ecosystems as well as the economic system due to over-exploitation of available stocks. Mining is a highly impactful extractive activity in terms of energy consumption, natural space degradation, and toxic waste discharge. Therefore, conserving mineral resources by reducing their use or using recycled materials has a positive effect on ecosystem preservation.

Marine Ecotoxicity:

The emission of heavy metals and other chemicals into the sea causes bioaccumulation in the food chain and affects the quality of the ecosystem and, ultimately, human health since these toxic compounds are ingested through food. Different categories of toxicity account for impacts on various environments, whether marine, aquatic, freshwater, or terrestrial.

Formation of Particulate Matter:

Particles with a size smaller than 10 µm are important air pollutants that can lead to respiratory diseases. They originate from the combustion of fuels as well as other industrial, agricultural, and construction activities. Their major danger lies in their small size, which allows them to remain suspended in the air and be easily transported over long distances. Due to their small size, they can easily enter living organisms, causing health impacts. Therefore, in addition to being an environmental impact, this indicator should be considered a social impact as well.

Water Footprint:

The water footprint is the total volume of freshwater required to produce a material, product, or service. It takes into account not only direct water consumption, which is the most visible, but also all indirect water consumptions that have a significant impact.



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