Environmental System Analysis

Environmental System Analysis Meaning, Methods, Importance Explained

Environmental system analysis is the concept, act and process of assessing all components or resources of an environment and how they affect both each other, and the quality of their surroundings.

This article discussed environmental system analysis meaning, methods and importance, as outlined below;



-Meaning of Environment System Analysis

-Methods of Environmental System Analysis

-Importance of Environmental System Analysis








Meaning of Environment System Analysis

Environmental System Analysis (ESA), also called environmental systems analysis; is the concept and practice whereby the primary, secondary, biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem are analyzed with the aim of understanding their interactions and effects on the ecological system [1].

The above definition of environmental system analysis describes the concept from a primarily-ecological perspective, and can be used to achieve better clarity when studying the types, classification-criteria, and examples of environmental systems.

Below is a related definition of environmental system analysis, which uses the same ecologic perspective, but lays more emphasis on the analysis of component-interactions and their effects on the environmental system;

Environmental System Analysis is the collection, compilation and assessment of data to reveal the trends and environmental impacts of human activities on abiotic and biotic conditions.

It is useful to add to the above that environmental system analysis usually provides information on both environmental impacts and the potential measures for achieving sustainability.

This places the practice of ESA among other practices that are linked to sustainable development, like environmental remediation, recycling, energy conservation and green building.

In the alternative definition of environmental system analysis below, links with sustainable development are highlighted;

Environmental system analysis is a systematic approach to sustainable development that assesses the conditions, interactions and influences on the environment, to provide information that is useful to sustainable projects such as renewable energy.

Lastly, environmental system analysis is defined from a business perspective;

Environmental system analysis is the act of researching and evaluating the internal and external factors affecting a business entity or organization, in order to aid decision-making and optimization [7].







Methods of Environmental System Analysis

Methods of environmental system analysis are; material flow analysis (MFA), environmental impact assessment (EIA), life cycle assessment (LCA), energy and exergy analysis.

Each of them is discussed as follows;





1). Material Flow Analysis (MFA) (as one of the Methods of Environmental System Analysis)

Material flow analysis is a method of environmental system analysis that quantifies and compares the internal and external flow of material resources across the boundaries of a defined environment [10].

The flow of materials in the environment refers to how resources are introduced or removed, utilized, conserved and converted within an environmental system.

The objective of material flow analysis is to trace and evaluate how resources are being managed or wasted, along with the effect of these on the environment.

Material flow model is the outcome of material flow analysis, and can be described as a summary of the trends and patterns of material flow observed in an environment.

With regards to environmental system analysis, material flow analysis is crucial because it can give clues as to how resources can be utilized efficiently, with least impact on the environment.

The use of material flow analysis is common in industrial ecology for optimizing and assessing supply chains [3]. When implemented optimally, it is very useful for sustainable manufacturing and circular economic development.

Methods of Environmental System Analysis: Material Flow Analysis (MFA) as a tool for Sustainable Manufacturing and Supply Chain-Optimization (Credit: PEO ACWA 2020 .CC BY 2.0.)
Methods of Environmental System Analysis: Material Flow Analysis (MFA) as a tool for Sustainable Manufacturing and Supply Chain-Optimization (Credit: PEO ACWA 2020 .CC BY 2.0.)





2). Substance Flow Analysis (SFA)

Substance flow analysis (SFA) is a method of environmental system analysis that evaluates and characterizes the pattern of flow of resources into and out of a given environment.

It must be noted that substance flow analysis has essentially the same meaning as material flow analysis. The term is used mostly when there is an element of regularity to the flow of resources.

Substance flow analysis can be used to understand the relevance and impact of resource flow patterns, from an economic perspective [9].

There are different methods of flow analysis, including direct, indirect, unsegmented and segmented flow analyses.





3). Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (as one of the Methods of Environmental System Analysis)

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the core methods of environmental system analysis.

It measures the presence and effects of processes like climate change, global warming and pollution, on the environment, with the aim of mitigating negative impacts and conserving resources.

Through environmental impact assessment, system analysis can be performed thoroughly from an ecologic perspective [6].

Methods of environmental impact assessment are; Adhoc, Network, Matrix, Checklist, and Overlay methods.





4). Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (LCA) or life cycle analysis, is a method of environmental system analysis that evaluates the effects of a given product, project or process on the environment, at different stages of its development [5].

The importance of life cycle assessment toward environmental studies is immense, and is based on its role in providing a clear view of the relationship between activities, products and environmental conditions.

Stages of life cycle assessment include source evaluation, production evaluation, operational life assessment and end of life/decommissioning assessment.

In the development of a sustainable, green economy, life cycle assessment is indispensable as a tool to determine the role of various sectors in improving or degrading the environment [2].





5). Energy and Exergy Analysis (as one of the Methods of Environmental System Analysis)

Energy analysis is the evaluation of released and stored energy in a system, while exergy analysis is the evaluation of the efficiency and productivity of energy conversion.

The difference between energy and exergy is based on conservation, where energy is always conserved in an isolated system, while exergy can be lost from any system when the conversion of energy is not efficient.

Understanding energy and exergy dynamics in a system is possible when the principles of thermodynamics are put into consideration; because these principles explain how matter and energy interact with each other and with the boundaries of any system in which they occur.

With regards to environmental system analysis, energy and exergy are very important for measuring the efficiency of both energy consumption and energy conservation, and how these affect the performance of any energy-dependent system [8].

Sustainable projects for mitigating resource depletion and developing complex renewable energy systems, can benefit from energy and exergy analysis [4].







Importance of Environmental System Analysis

The purpose of environmental system analysis is to understand how the environment and its resources are affected by various processed and activities, in order to use such understanding to mitigate degradation or the environment, and improve soil, water and air quality.


Areas of importance of environmental system analysis are;

1. Assessment of environmental impacts

2. Optimization of technological and industrial projects

3. Urban development optimization

4. Improvement of waste management, hazard mitigation and environmental safety








Environmental System Analysis (ESA), is the evaluation, comparison and analysis of elements of the environment and their impact on environmental quality.


Methods of environmental system analysis are;

1. Material Flow Analysis (MFA)

2. Substance Flow Analysis (SFA)

3. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

4. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

5. Energy and Exergy Analysis


Importance of environmental system analysis includes; impact assessment, project optimization, urban development, hazard mitigation and environment safety.








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