Level of analysis: Micro (products, companies, household) Additional explanation: MIPS is close to MFA. Investigations on macro level and most investigations on meso level are carried out as MFA (see MFA).
Description of the matter of the assessment/what is the purpose of applying the tool?:
MIPS means Material Intensity Per Service Unit. MIPS indicates the quantity of resources used for this product or service. MIPS is an input-oriented method on micro level for estimating the environmental impact of products or services. Calculations are used for accounting the life-cycle-wide material / resource demand for products and services as indicator for their environmental impacts.
Description of the methodology:
MIPS calculates the use of resources from the point of their extraction from nature: all data corresponds to the amount of moved ton in nature, thus to the categories of biotic or renewable resources, abiotic or non-renewable resources, water, air and earth movement in agriculture and silviculture. By interlocking the processes on all these levels, optimisation of all material inputs contributes to a life-cycle-wide increase in resource productivity s.o..
MIPS means Material Intensity Per Service unit. In order to estimate the input related impact on the environment caused by the manufacture or services of a product, MIPS indicates the quantity of resources (material) used for this product or service. The reciprocal of MIPS is defined as resource productivity per service unit.
The basic idea of MIPS is, that material extractions cause changes in natural material flows and cycles. Sooner or later, all material input becomes an output: waste or emission. If every input becomes an output anyway, then by measuring the input, one can arrive at an estimation of the environmental impact potential. Most methods of evaluating the ecological quality of a product investigate a variety of outputs (emissions) whose relevance is known, or at least partially described. Compared to the multitude of emitted substances (some hundred thousand to a million), the number of substances, which have been thoroughly and comprehensively researched to their effect, is, however, miniscule (a few hundred). Because of these limitations of output-oriented approaches, MIPS is focused on the much smaller number of inputs which are much easier to count.
MIPS calculates the use of resources from the point of their extraction from nature: all data corresponds to the amount of moved tons in nature, thus to the categories of biotic (or renewable raw material), abiotic (or non renewable raw material), water, air and earth movement in agriculture and silviculture.
All material consumption during manufacture, use and recycling or disposal is calculated as resource consumption. Therefore MIPS counts lifecycle wide.
In general MIPS is a screening LCA and has to be calculated life-cycle-wide but, focussing only on the inputs. For this reason many aspects of MIPS, especially on the inventory level, are comparable with a LCA. This includes allocations as well as cut off criteria. Like LCA in MIPS the geographical system boundaries comprises the entire world.
By measuring the inputs no qualitative impact assessment will be achieved, but a quantitative indicator of the potential for environmental impact of a product or service is derived. MIPS is unspecific to particular materials and substance-specific hazards, it is precautionary and, through a reduction of material flows, it is directed at the known as well as the yet unknown, environmental problems.
Different from LCA, the calculation rules and options for allocation are formulated more strict, a consequence from the fact that MIPS was developed to allow consistent investigations from the micro up to the macro level.
When comparing different variants of a solution, it is necessary to establish a measure of comparison. According to the MIPS concept, this measure is called a service unit. By using a service unit it is possible to make a comparison between the material and “non-material” fulfilment of a service. The definition of service unit is close to the functional unit used in LCA. But with choosing a different term it was intended to give a stronger focus on dematerialized solutions.
MIPS is focused on one of the most relevant aspects of environmental impacts, the use of natural resources. Because this use is connected directly and indirectly with other relevant environmental impacts like emissions of greenhouse gases, energy use or land use, MIPS is a estimation for the environmental impact of products and services as well as whole economies.
The five categories for resource use, abiotic material or non renewable resources, biotic materials or renewable resources, water, air and earth movement in agriculture and silviculture and the methodology in general, are based on a general concept of estimating environmental impacts of all kinds of goods on all levels from micro to macro. The concept was developed at the Wuppertal Institute and is not focused on specific applications like “industrial products” and therefore not driven by interest of certain industries. The input orientation leads to an easier and more cost efficient methodology.
MIPS is in general a input oriented life-cycle approach. There are several similarities with other life-cycle approaches like ISO LCA or Cumulative Energy Requirement (CERA) cumulative energy demand. Many data from other LCA Studies can be used easily for calculating MIPS.
Compared to other life-cycle approaches, MIPS is relatively easy to calculate, it needs less information and allows working with more or simpler estimations without weakening the results. Most relevant for the results are often well known process parameters.
MIPS can be calculated using and modifying life-cycle analysis software or with even more widely available spreadsheet software.
The methodology is consistent over different levels (micro, meso and macro) and is used for all this levels. The relatively strict rules for calculating MIPS are a necessary condition for this.
The method counts different kinds of resource extraction as an indicator for the environmental impact of a product or service. Because of this limitation other aspects are not directly counted. This includes many well established environmental impacts categories like emissions of greenhousegases, acidification or ozone depletion.
The method is in generally limited to environmental aspects and does not consider social or economic aspects of sustainability.
The method is a life-cycle approach and therefore still relatively complex. A deeper investigation with the method needs skilled staff and competence in field of life-cycle analysis.
The methodological guide is only developed by a single institute and is not standardized by ISO or in a comparable way. This limits the acceptance and distribution of the concept. Another limitation is that several documents concerning the concept are only written in German and only a small number is translated into English or other languages.
After several years of application an update or a precision of some conventions (concerning system boundaries, allocation and so on) would be needed to increase the general compatibility with other life-cycle approaches.
MIPS calculation is not integrated as a method in typical LCA software like Umberto, GaBi, Team or SimaPro. This makes it necessary to adopt software or to work with standard software like a spreadsheet.
The availability of data is limited to a small number of suppliers and the documentation is limited. Most available data are calculated for production processes in Germany or Europe. This data cannot be used easily for other countries and regions.
The MIPS indicator is a pressure indicator. It does not tell anything about specific impacts in terms of changes of the state of environment. Furthermore, bulk material flow indicators may not be used to indicate substance specific pressures. Unused extraction may have different impacts than further processed materials with regard to the subsequent outputs; therefore, the information on overall inputs should be complemented by the information on critical outputs.
For this aspects a complementary approach may be chosen by integrating material input indicators with pressure indicators e.g. for greenhouse gas emissions.
The publicly available documentation of most published MIPS data is relatively poor and the reference year is not published.
Opportunities for broadening and deepening LCA
MIPS can be calculated with information from ISO LCA. It has a specific focus on the resource use and is broadening the LCA in this point. On the other hand it is much easier compared to an ISO LCA.
The reduced complexity of MIPS compared to an ISO LCA opens at the same time a possibility of broadening LCA. The complexity of an ISO LCA makes it difficult to add additional aspects like social or cultural aspects to the LCA for a sustainability assessment. For the ambitious goal of broadening LCA towards a sustainability assessment it seems to be necessary to reduce or limit the complexity of the analysis in all three aspects of sustainability, ecology, economy and social aspects.
For reaching this goal meaningful indicators for all three aspects are needed. The wellestablished economic growth indicators (e.g. GDP) show that simple indicators can be widely accepted.
It might be a possible next step for further establishment of life-cycle thinking to reduce the complexity of LCA approaches to enable a broader acceptance and application.
Threats for broadening and deepening LCA
All kinds of simplification include the risk of oversimplification. Economic indicators are often very simple and are used without reflecting their limitations. Simplification of environmental indicators can lead to comparable problems.
Reducing the complexity of measures or indicators makes it highly necessary to carefully select indicators and to describe limitations in detail.
MIPS is more for focussing on specific life cycle aspects than broadening LCA.
Schmidt-Bleek, F.: Wieviel Umwelt braucht der Mensch? MIPS. Das Maß für ökologisches Wirtschaften, Birkhäuser, Berlin, Basel, Boston 1993
Schmidt-Bleek, F.: The Fossil Makers; 1993; www.factor10.de
Bringezu, S.; Stiller, H., Schmidt-Bleek, F.: Material Intensity Analysis – A Screening Step of LCA. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on EcoBalance, Nov. 18-20. 1996 Tsukuba, Japan, p. 147-152
Schmidt-Bleek, F. (Hrsg.): MAIA – Einführung in die Material-Intensitäts-Analyse nach dem MIPS-Konzept, Birkhäuser, Basel, Berlin, Boston, 1998
Ritthoff, M.; Rohn, H.; Liedtke, C.: Calculating MIPS: Resource productivity of products and services, Wuppertal Spezial Nr. 27e, Wuppertal 2002
Schmidt-Bleek, F. (Hrsg.): Der ökologische Rucksack, Stuttgart, Leipzig 2004
Schütz, H./Ritthoff, M.: Informationssysteme zur Erhöhung der Ressourcenproduktivität. Ansätze auf Mikro-, Meso- und Makro-Ebene. Wuppertal 2006