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Explained: Environmental databases in Helix and Mobius
Explained: Environmental databases in Helix and Mobius

Learn how the environmental databases available in Helix and Mobius work.

Artjom Janssen avatar
Written by Artjom Janssen
Updated this week

General Explanation

While primary data is the most accurate way of doing an LCA, this is often not available for every product or process along the supply chain. This is where environmental databases come into play. The databases are a set of Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) datasets that are based on scientific literature or industry average data. The most comprehensive LCI database is the ecoinvent database, which includes over 17,000 datasets in many areas such as energy supply, agriculture, transport, biofuels and biomaterials, bulk and specialty chemicals, construction materials, wood, and waste treatment.

These general datasets can be used as a proxy to quantify the inputs and outputs necessary for a certain product or process. In Helix and Mobius, these datasets are available for you to link to your products, materials, energy usage, and waste to obtain the environmental impact.

Other databases include the Dutch database called Nationale Milieudatabase (NMD), as well as the PEF 2.0 database (available in Mobius only).

Explanations on how to add ecoinvent datasets in Mobius are provided here.


Market & Production datasets

For a given product you may be able to select both a ‘Market’ or ‘Production’ type of dataset. 'Production' datasets include the impact of the on-location production only, while 'Market' datasets represent a mix of datasets that include both the impacts of the production itself and also the transport from the producer to the supplier. The transport distances are based on average distances for the distribution of that product.

In general, it is advised to use 'Market' datasets over 'Production' datasets. 'Market' datasets can be global, or localized to a region. The location in this case refers to where you are purchasing the item. For example, if the distributor is in Europe, then you can use the European market dataset.

'Production' datasets are useful in case you purchase something directly from the production facility which you know the location and your actual transport distance for. For some products, various production methods or raw materials are specified as options. So when the exact production method or raw material is known, select the fitting dataset.

Please note that even if you are using 'Market' datasets, you should still declare the transport distance from the supplier to your facility. The 'Market' dataset includes the transport necessary for it to reach the supplier but does not account for the distance between you and your supplier.


Location & database codes

Every activity present in the database has a geographic location. When selecting a dataset, the chosen location should be representative of the actual location of the activity. In Ecochain Mobius the geographic location is indicated in the dataset searcher per database item. In Ecochain Helix the geographic locations are reported in the dataset name. Older versions of ecoinvent use internationally accepted codes such as:

  • GLO = Global

  • RoW = Rest-of-World (Global without Switzerland)

  • ReR = Europe

  • CH = Switzerland

  • CN = China

  • DE = Germany

For more information on abbreviations click here:

There are also some codes representing databases that are specific to the Netherlands:

  • SBK = Sticthing Bouwkwaliteit (datasets addressing building material for the Dutch construction sector)

  • NMD = Nationale Milieudatabase (a database which is based on Ecoinvent, focused on the Netherlands)


Search for your material or process

1) Look up the material or process you are looking for by typing in the specific name in the search bar. If the material or process cannot be found, try looking for synonyms. For example: check whether a substance is available under a different name. There are various synonyms, e.g. you may not find ‘Phenyl ethane’, but you will find ‘Ethyl benzene’, which is the same substance.

An important thing that should be kept in mind is that the dataset of the material you are looking for is generally only giving you the finished material. For example: the plastics available in databases are generally only the finished polymer (granulates), which need to be further converted into products.

2) When looking for a process, the same holds. This means that a (conversion) process has to be added separately. For example: For some processes described on the sheets only the environmental impact of the process itself is included, and not of the raw material. So if you for example want to produce plastic films from LDPE, you have to select the plastic LDPE and the extrusion process for plastic films.

3) Pick the geographical region (e.g. GLO, ReR) closest to your specific material or process.

4) Some other general rules are:
- Always pick the most recent dataset.
- Verified datasets are preferred over unverified ones.
- In case of doubt between two datasets, pick the dataset with the highest impact (worst-case assumption).


Database models

All system models are based on the same underlying data of real-world processes, but different types of studies may benefit from different modeling choices.

In Mobius, the recommended system model “Allocation, cut-off by classification” is available. This system model, in short, is based on the Recycled Content, or Cut-off, approach.

The underlying philosophy is that a producer is fully responsible for the disposal of its wastes and that he does not receive any credit for the provision of any recyclable materials.

The cut-off system model has, broadly speaking, the effect that recyclable materials are cut off at the beginning of the treatment processes, becoming available burden-free for following uses. The treatment of wastes is completely allocated to the waste producer and all valuable by-products of waste treatment are cut off in the waste treatment, and become available burden-free. Ordinary by-products are handled by allocating between the products if an activity produces more than one of them.

More information on the cut-off model can be found here Ecoinvent Cut-off model.

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