Is cumulative fossil energy demand a useful indicator for the environmental performance of products?

Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Feb 1;40(3):641-8. doi: 10.1021/es051689g.


The appropriateness of the fossil Cumulative Energy Demand (CED) as an indicator for the environmental performance of products and processes is explored with a regression analysis between the environmental life-cycle impacts and fossil CEDs of 1218 products, divided into the product categories "energy production", "material production", "transport", and "waste treatment". Our results show that, for all product groups but waste treatment, the fossil CED correlates well with most impact categories, such as global warming, resource depletion, acidification, eutrophication, tropospheric ozone formation, ozone depletion, and human toxicity (explained variance between 46% and 100%). We conclude that the use of fossil fuels is an important driver of several environmental impacts and thereby indicative for many environmental problems. It maytherefore serve as a screening indicatorfor environmental performance. However, the usefulness of fossil CED as a stand-alone indicator for environmental impact is limited by the large uncertainty in the product-specific fossil CED-based impact scores (larger than a factor of 10 for the majority of the impact categories; 95% confidence interval). A major reason for this high uncertainty is nonfossil energy related emissions and land use, such as landfill leachates, radionuclide emissions, and land use in agriculture and forestry.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Conservation of Energy Resources*
  • Environmental Pollution / analysis*
  • Forestry
  • Fossil Fuels*
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Waste Management*


  • Fossil Fuels