The social footprint—a practical approach to comprehensive and consistent social LCA

Weidema B P (2018)

Publication info

The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 23(3):700-709



The practicality of social footprinting is currently hampered by an excessive data requirement, a lack of focus on materiality of the impacts, and a lack of understanding of the main impact pathways (cause-effect relationships) for social and economic impacts. We propose a “streamlined” method to overcome these barriers without loss of comprehensiveness.


The method combines a top-down approach using input-output data to focus the data collection effort on processes with high value added or a high number of work hours with a streamlined impact assessment that limits the inventory data requirement and the need for detailed impact pathway descriptions, by focusing on the macro-scale impacts of income redistribution and productivity impacts of missing governance, both of which can be classified as non-production-specific impacts, i.e., unrelated to enterprise-specific actions and choice of technology, and therefore quantifiable from national statistics without need to access detailed technology- or enterprise-specific data. The method is open for further refinement and detail in areas of specific interest for a particular product or project.

Results and discussion

We show that non-production-specific impacts constitute the vast majority of social and economic impacts and how important income inequality is for the impact assessment. We apply a novel way of combining impacts on productivity and impacts on human well-being and show that inequality implies that an intervention that changes the amount of QALY (quality-adjusted life years) for a population group will always give a larger change in well-being than an intervention of the same monetary value that only affects the level of consumption of the same population group. Throughout the article, we apply and illustrate the method with an example from the clothing industry.


The presented method allows comprehensive assessments of social footprints of products at much lower efforts than seen so far. The potential credits for positive action is by far the largest in countries with missing governance, thus providing a compelling argument for placing activities in countries with missing governance, provided that it allows the enterprise to follow an active strategy to create shared value.

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