How do environmental databases work in Helix and Mobius?

This article gives general information and guidance regarding the environmental databases available in Helix and Mobius

1.1 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 which 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 usages and wastes 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 eecoinvent references are provided here:

In Ecochain Helix

In Ecochain Mobius

Market & Production references

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

In general, it is advised to use 'Market' references over 'Production' references. 'Market' references 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 reference.

'Production' references 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 reference.

Please note that even if you are using 'Market' references, you should still declare the transport distance from the supplier to your facility. The 'Market' reference 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 reference, the chosen location should be representative of the actual location of the activity. In Ecochain Mobius the geographic location is indicated in the reference searcher per database item. In Ecochain Helix the geographic locations are reported in the reference name. Older versions of ecoinvent use internationally accepted codes such as:

  • GLO= Global
  • RoW= Rest of the world (Global without Switzerland)
  • ReR= Europe
  • CH= Switzerland
  • CN= China
  • DE= Germany
For more information on abbreviations click here:
Terminology in LCA
3. There are also some codes representing databases that are specific for the Netherlands:
  • SBK: Stichting Bouwkwaliteit (references addressing building material for the Dutch buidling sector)
  • NMD: Nationale Milieudatabase (a database which is based on Ecoinvent, focused on the Netherlands)

1.2 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 reference 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 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 reference.
- Verified references are preferred over unverified.
- In case of doubt between two references, pick the reference 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 studies may benefit from different modelling 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.