The integration of economic and social aspects in life cycle impact assessment

Weidema B P (2006)

Publication info

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 11(1):89-96


Goal, Scope and Background

Although both cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) have developed from engineering practice, and have the same objective of a holistic ex-ante assessment of human activities, the techniques have until recently developed in relative isolation. This has resulted in a situation where much can be gained from an integration of the strong aspects of each technique. Such integration is now being prompted by the more widespread use of both CBA and LCA on the global arena, where also the issues of social responsibility are now in focus. Increasing availability of data on both biophysical and social impacts now allow the development of a truly holistic, quantitative environmental assessment technique that integrates economic, biophysical and social impact pathways in a structured and consistent way. The concept of impact pathways, linking biophysical and economic inventory results via midpoint impact indicators to final damage indicators, is well described in the LCA and CBA literature. Therefore, this paper places specific emphasis on how social aspects can be integrated in LCA.

Methods and Results

With a starting point in the conceptual structure and approach of life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), as developed by Helias Udo de Haes and the SETAC/UNEP Life Cycle Initiative, the paper identifies six damage categories under the general heading of human life and well-being. The paper proposes a comprehensive set of indicators, with units of measurement, and a first estimate of global normalisation values, based on incidence or prevalence data from statistical sources and severity scores from health state analogues. Examples are provided of impact chains linking social inventory indicators to impacts on both human well-being and productivity.

Recommendation and Perspective

It is suggested that human well-being measured in QALYs (Quality Adjusted Life Years) may provide an attractive single-score alternative to direct monetarisation.

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