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The environmental impact of the agricultural sector: assessment methodologies toward a circular economy perspective (2020)

ECTS credits:

Course parameters:
Language: English
Level of course: PhD course
Time of year: Fall 2020
No. of contact hours/hours in total incl. preparation, assignment(s) or the like: The course includes preparation by reading material of about 45h, 35h lectures, solving exercises related to the lectures and independent work 45h. Total work load about 125h.
Capacity limits: The course has a capacity limit of about 20 participants.

Objectives of the course:
The objective of the course is to introduce the students to state-of-the-art of the environmental impact of the agricultural sector and to do so in light of possibilities and shortcomings. The course will include an overview of the main environmental impacts generated the agricultural sector. In particular, the effect of the agricultural sector on greenhouse gas emissions, land, water and heavy metals will be addressed. Moreover, a detailed introduction of the methodologies/indicators used to estimate the environmental impact of the agricultural sector will be provided. Several case studies at different level of analysis (global, national, product) will be investigated. The students will receive a basic understanding of the applied assessment techniques with practical exercises. The course will also include training of the students’ in presenting research in the form of short oral presentations at international workshops and conferences.

Learning outcomes and competences:
At the end of the course, the student should be able to:

  • Know the main environmental impacts associate with the agricultural sector
  • Discuss impact of agriculture on health, environment and climate
  • Know the basis of various methodologies/indicators estimating the agricultural impacts
  • Select a monitoring strategy for various types of agricultural impacts
  • Evaluate the agricultural impacts at different level of analysis
  • Discuss the strengths and weakness of various impact assessments
  • Understand the basic data sources and approaches for data analysis
  • Interpret results from various measurements

Compulsory programme:
The lecturing takes place as a five days intensive course. Prior to the course the student are expected to have read the listed literature. During two of the evenings at the course the students are expected to present short oral presentations in connection with the lessons. During the course, the students will carry out basic assessments by using methodologies presented at the course. After the course, the students need to produce a written report with essays on various topics as well as all calculation exercises from the course. Exercises may be solved in hand, by excel or by programming. In the material provided for the students there will be a short introduction to LCA, IPCC inventory methodology and virtual land and water trade calculation. In the reports, the students are expected to add explanatory text to demonstrate their understanding of the exercises. Details on the exercises are given in the course description.

Course contents: 

Session 1: Agricultural sector: ecological dynamics and impact sources. Lecturer: Dr Dario Caro AU.

Session 2: Life cycle assessment: the case study of an agricultural product. Lecturer: Marianne Thomsen AU.

Session 3: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from livestock sector: the GHG emission inventory. Lecturer: Dr Dario Caro AU.

Session 4: Virtual land and water trade. Lecturer: Dr Dario Caro AU.

Session 5: Land footprint. Lecturer: Dr Thomas Kastner Senckenberg biodiversity and climate research centre (Frankfurt).

Session 6: Emissions from land use change. Lecturer: Dr Thomas Kastner Senckenberg biodiversity and climate research centre (Frankfurt).

Session 7: Anthropogenic phosphorus flows: Material Flow Analysis (MFA). Lecturer: Manfred Klinglmair, AU.

Session 8: Soil health and food safety: a circular economy perspective. Lecturer: Prof Marianne Thomsen AU.

Session 9: Biowaste Valorisation in a regenerative Circular Bioeconomy. Lecturer: Prof Marianne Thomsen AU. 

Session 10: Alternative proteins as potential solution for a more sustainable agriculture. Lecturer: Prof Marianne Thomsen AU.

Session 11: The carbon footprint of a Danish diet Dr Dario Caro AU.

Session 12: Plant-based diets and Health Prof. Armando Perez-Cueto Copenhagen University (KU).

Session 13: Plant-based diets and Consumers Prof. Armando Perez-Cueto Copenhagen University (KU).

The participants need to have a background in environmental/natural science at MSc level, but otherwise no prerequisites.

Name of lecturers: Dario Caro (AU), Marianne Thomsen (AU), Manfred Klinglmair (AU), Armando Perez-Cueto (KU), Thomas Kastner (Senckenberg biodiversity and climate research centre).

Type of course/teaching methods:
The course includes class lectures, theoretical and practical exercises and preparation of a report with a series of essays and theoretical exercises.


  • Caro, D., Davis, S.J., , Bastianoni, S., Caldeira, K., 2014. Global and regional trends in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock consumption and production. Climatic Change, 126, 203-216.
  • Caro, D., LoPresti A., Davis, S.J., Caldeira, K., Bastianoni, S., 2014. CH4 and N2O emissions embodied in international trade of meat. Environmental research letters, 9, (11) 114005.
  • Taherzadeh, O. Caro, D., 2019. Drivers of water and land use embodied in international soybean trade. Journal of Cleaner Production, 223, 83-93.
  • Klinglmair, M., Zoboli, O., Laner, D., Rechberger, H., Astrup, T. F., & Scheutz, C. (2016). The effect of data structure and model choices on MFA results: a comparison of phosphorus balances for Denmark and Austria. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 109.
  • Klinglmair, M., Vadenbo, C., Astrup, T. F., & Scheutz, C. (2017). An MFA-based optimization model for increased resource efficiency: Phosphorus flows in Denmark. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 122.
  • Thomsen, M., Seghetta, M., Mikkelsen, M.H., Gyldenkærne, S., Becker, T., Caro, D., Frederiksen, P., 2017. Comparative life cycle assessment of biowaste to resource management systems - A Danish case study. Journal of Cleaner Production 4050-4058.
  • Thomsen, M., Seghetta, M., Mikkelsen, M.H., Gyldenkærne, S., Becker, T. and Frederiksen, P., 2015. Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of existing and emerging biowaste management systems  -  A Danish Case study. To be submitted to Journal of Cleaner Production.
  • Thomsen, M., Romeo D., Caro, D., Seghetta, M., Schmidt, J.H., Cong, R.G., 2016. Environmental-economic analysis of integrated organic waste and wastewater management systems: A case study from Aarhus City (Denmark). Sustainability, 10, 3742.
  • Vea, E.B., Romeo, D., Thomsen, M., 2018 Biowaste valorisation in a future circular bioeconomy. Procedia CIRP 69, 591-596. doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2017.11.062
  • Lee, J, Pedersen, AB & Thomsen, M 2014, 'Are the resource strategies for sustainable development sustainable?: Downside of a zero waste society with circular resource flows' Environmental Technology & Innovation, vol 1-2, s. 46-54
  • Vea, E.B., Martinez-Sanchez, V., Thomsen, M., 2018.  A Review of Waste Management Decision Support Tools and Their Ability to Assess Circular Biowaste Management Systems. Sustainability 10, 3720.
  • Bastianoni, S., Coscieme, L., Caro, D., Marchettini, N., Pulselli, S. 2019. The needs of Sustainability: The overarching contribution of a systems approach. Ecological indicators, 100, 69-73.
  • Bruno, M., Thomsen, M., Pulselli, F.M., Patrizi, N., Marini, M., Caro, D. 2019. The carbon footprint of Danish diets. Climatic Change, 156, 489-507.
  • Owusu-Osei, A.K., Kastner, T., de Ruiter, H., Thomsen, M., Caro, D. 2019. The global carbon footprint of Denmark’s food supply 2000-2013. Global Environmental Change, 58, 101978
  • Faber, I.Castellanos-Feijoó, N.A.Van de Sompel, L.Davydova, A.Perez-Cueto, F.J.A. Attitudes and knowledge towards plant-based diets of young adults across four European countries. Exploratory survey. Appetite 145, 104498.
  • Chai, B.C.van der Voort, J.R.Grofelnik, K., (...), Klöss, I.Perez-Cueto, F.J.A. Which diet has the least environmental impact on our planet? A systematic review of vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous diets. Sustainability 11, 4110.
  • Zhou, X.Perez-Cueto, F.J.A.Dos Santos, Q., (...), Dinnella, C.Hartwell, H. Promotion of novel plant-based dishes among older consumers using the ‘dish of the day’ as a nudging strategy in 4 EU countries. Food Quality and Preference75, 260-272

Course homepage:

Course assessment:
The students will be preparing a report with a series of essays and theoretical exercises. The students will receive a diploma after participation completing the course.

Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Denmark

Special comments on this course:
Participation in course: free

23-27 November 2020

Emdrup Campus (Copenhagen)

Deadline for registration is 1 November 2020.

To register or if you have any questions, please contact Dario Caro, e-mail: dac@envs.au.dk.

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