Guidelines for social life cycle assessment of products

Andrews E S, Barthel L-P, Beck T, Benoit C, Ciroth A, Cucuzzella C, Gensch C-O, Hubert J, Lesage P, Manhart A, Maria L, Mazeau P, Mazijn B, Methot A-L, Moberg A, Norris G A, Parent J, Prakash S, Reveret J-P, Spillemaeckers S, Ugaya S, Valdivia S, Weidema B P (2009)

Publication info

United Nations Environment Programme.

Executive summary

The Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products provides a map, a skeleton and a flash light for stakeholders engaging in the assessment of social and socio-economic impacts of products life cycle.

First, the S-LCA Guidelines provides a map, which describes the context, the key concepts, the broader field in which tools and techniques are getting developed and their scope of application. The map is important because it relates to history, initiatives and ideas that are both molding the S-LCA technique and essential to its broad application.

Shared concerns about the state and sustainability of environmental, economic and social dimensions of today’s and tomorrow’s world are expressed through the concept of Sustainable Development. The journey towards sustainability finds sustainable production and consumption at its very heart. It also relates to the social responsibility of organizations and the objective to improve social and environmental performances along with sustained economic profitability -all in the perspective to contribute notably to greater human well-being.

Because it is holistic, systemic and rigorous, Life Cycle Assessment is the preferred tool when it comes to access information about potential and real impacts of products life cycle. Life cycles of products involve material, energy and economic flows. They are also made of stories about production and consumption impacts on the workers, the local communities, the consumers, the society and all value chain actors. Second, the S-LCA Guidelines provides a skeleton. It presents key elements to consider and provide guidance for the goal and scope, inventory, impact assessment and interpretation phases of a social life cycle assessment. The S-LCA Guidelines provide the necessary basis for the development of databases and the design of softwares that will ease the practice of S-LCA. The skeleton is important because it is a foundation on which a larger group of stakeholders can engage.

The framework detailed in the S-LCA Guidelines is in line with the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards for Life Cycle Assessment. Adaptations for the consideration of social and socio-economic issues are described in the framework. It proposes a two-fold classification of social impacts: by stakeholder categories and impact categories. A set of subcategories, which are social and socio-economic issues of concerns, to be used in S-LCA are presented.

Third, the S-LCA Guidelines provide a flash light that highlights areas where further research is needed. Other publications shall follow these Guidelines, presenting details of the methodology and further developments notably in regard to Impact assessment. A flash light is important to enable researchers and practitioners to identify rapidly where additional efforts should be invested. It also helps to prevent the use of the technique for applications that would not be appropriate considering its current state of development such as comparative assertion communicated to the public. Further resources will be made available to the public on the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative web site. Social Life Cycle Assessment is a technique available to account for stories and inform systematically on impacts that otherwise would be lost in the vast and fast moving sea of our modern world. May it help stakeholders to effectively and

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