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About this book

This book gives a selection of contributions from the 6th Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) Conference in Pescara, Italy. S-LCA is a social (real and potential) impact assessment method that aims to drive improvements in order to increase the value of products and services. It helps organizations to plan better, implement more effectively, and promote scale initiatives. More in general, the assessment activity also facilitates accountability and supports stakeholder communication.

Consumers are greatly aware of the provenance of the goods they purchase. They have greater access to product information than ever before, also thanks to the new digital platforms. They are also empowered to make more responsible purchase decisions about what concerns sustainability aspects. Therefore the need to linger on the social aspects has been emerging recently. Although the business evolution of environmental methods and metrics has advanced significantly over the past decades, tools and metrics to estimate the social aspects of products and services are in progress.

In this volume several sections provide methodological developments and tool focus, contextualizing S-LCA scientifically and explore the fields of applications. Through current development (conferences, articles, seminars and industry group publications), the method is spreading, evolving and gaining in maturity. However, it still is an evolving field, and main developments foresee, both at the level of methodology and results, interpretation and communication in order to find a path forward. S-LCA has been changing since the beginnings. From our observations as educators, researchers, practitioners, and peer reviewers in the S-LCA community, there are trends that are of importance us.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Functional Unit Definition Criteria in Life Cycle Assessment and Social Life Cycle Assessment: A Discussion

The definition of a Functional Unit (FU) is essential for building and modelling a product system in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). A FU is a quantified description of the function of a product that serves as the reference basis for all calculations regarding impact assessment. A function may be based on different features of the product under study, such as performance, aesthetics, technical quality, additional services, costs, etc. Whilst the FU definition is typical in LCA, this does not seem to be a common practice in Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA), even though a FU definition is required. Unlike LCA, where quantitative data are mainly collected and processed, the assessment of the social and socio-economic impacts in S-LCA is based on a prevalence of qualitative and semi-quantitative data, a fact that renders the assessment to be somehow unfriendly. Moreover, whilst in LCA a product-oriented approach is typical, S-LCA tends to be a business-oriented methodology, where the emphasis of the social assessment lies on the behaviour of the organisations that are involved in the processes under study rather than on the function that is generated by a product. Indeed, several S-LCA case studies were found in the literature in which the FU is not discussed, let alone defined. The objective of this article is to contribute to analysing the criteria used for the definition of a FU in LCA and verifying whether these criteria can be suitable for S-LCA case studies applications. For this reason, a literature review was carried out on LCA in order to identify whether and how this issue has been tackled with so far. In addition, a second literature review was performed in order to verify how the FU has been introduced in the framework of the S-LCA methodology. Finally, an investigation of the analysis results, in terms of the selected FU, is proposed in view of an ever-growing need for a combination of the LCA and S-LCA methodologies into a broader Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA).
Ioannis Arzoumanidis, Manuela D’Eusanio, Andrea Raggi, Luigia Petti

Chapter 2. Towards a Taxonomy for Social Impact Pathway Indicators

A conceptually complete taxonomy is proposed at three levels of the impact pathway: Elementary flows, midpoint impacts, and endpoint impacts. The completeness is ensured conceptually by including unspecified residuals and by the use of fully quantifiable indicators that can be traced from source to sink, so that completeness can be verified by input-output balances and against measured totals. Each category in the taxonomy has a definition and at the lowest level also a unit of measurement. Examples of category definitions and units are illustrated in an impact pathway model with starting point in the midpoint impact category “Undernutrition”. This model also demonstrates the role of the taxonomy in the development of characterisation factors.
Bo P. Weidema

Chapter 3. A New Scheme for the Evaluation of Socio-Economic Performance of Organizations: A Well-Being Indicator Approach

In this paper we propose to evaluate socio-economic performance of organizations through a well-being approach. Our aim is to build a composite indicator for product socio-economic impacts. As composite indicators are useful to simplify the behaviour of complex phenomena, a methodology based on well-being indicators is developed in the scope of the affected population. The organization actions are connected to the weights of the well-being indicators based on the effective links existing between these actions and the well-being dimensions. Thereafter, the links between variables from social reporting and life cycle inventory indicators are defined by conducting a Delphi expert consensus method on the basis of the “Wisdom of crowds” theory.
Silvia Di Cesare, Alfredo Cartone, Luigia Petti

Chapter 4. Structure of a Net Positive Analysis for Supply Chain Social Impacts

Net Positive may well be the buzzword of this decade. Beyond the noise, it has the potential to be a transformational movement, helping businesses to redefine their role in society, their social purpose. As an idea, it simplicity and candor make it both extremely attractive and powerful. It poses a great question and sets a challenge: Can we give more to the environment and society than we take? To be Net Positive a company (and its supply chain) handprint needs to be greater than its footprint. The Net Positive Project and Harvard SHINE have worked to clarify the Principles and methodology that can make the Net Positive concept both actionable and valid. This include defining handprints in a measurable way. In this paper, we are developing on the methods that can be used to assess the social Net Positive impacts. Reviewing and building on social life cycle assessment, we introduce a structure for Net Positive analysis of social impacts. This framework is meant to be practical, actionable and inclusive.
Catherine Benoit Norris, Gregory A. Norris, Lina Azuero, John Pflueger

Chapter 5. Weighting and Scoring in Social Life Cycle Assessment

Social impact evaluation is one of the cornerstones of products and services sustainability. Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA hereafter) focuses on studying potential social impacts of products’ life cycle. As it is a relatively new analytical approach, no globally shared application tools have been developed for it yet. Communicating S-LCA results to decision-makers in order to promote social sustainable decisions is a challenge because it involves the aggregation of companies’ performances across impact categories through numerical variables based on value-choices. Currently, the weighting process (used for performance aggregation) considered for type I analysis in the literature presents some limits: lack of transparency, implicit choices, no standard weighting method and the failure to take into account the uncertainty of these value choices. This paper aims to address these limits by proposing a standard approach to conduct the weighting process for type I S-LCA. It starts after characterization phase and comprises four stages: (i) impact level scoring, (ii) functional unit aggregation, (iii) weighting factors definition and (iv) performances aggregation across impact categories. This approach is able to consider determinist or stochastic numerical variables, depending on the inclusion or not of the uncertainty associated to people’ value judgments. In terms of results, this paper presents an illustrative case study in order to exemplify how to conduct the weighting process in S-LCA. Considering the results, we identified some limits related to our approach: (i) depending on the subjects involved in S-LCA and the subcategory indicators considered for the assessment, it might not be possible to define standard weighting factors for all case studies; (ii) the type of uncertainty tackled on this approach is only associated with value choices – no other source of uncertainty is addressed and; (iii) the method used to assess qualitative social performances (scoring, check list or social hotspot database) can influence the aggregated social performance of product systems.
Breno Barros Telles do Carmo, Sara Russo Garrido, Gabriella Arcese, Maria Claudia Lucchetti

Chapter 6. Beyond a Corporate Social Responsibility Context Towards Methodological Pluralism in Social Life Cycle Assessment: Exploring Alternative Social Theoretical Perspectives

The UNEP/SETAC guidelines have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as the underpinning theoretical perspective. However, studies on CSR suggest that the companies have benefitted more than society. We explore two alternative theoretical perspectives: the theory of ecologically unequal exchange (TEUE) and the actor-network-theory (ANT). By analysing case studies informed by TEUE and ANT, we identify their contribution to social life cycle assessment. The analysis shows that the perspectives enable description and identification of issues otherwise uncovered by the UNEP/SETAC approach: the unequal balance of health effects over a production and a consumption system and the presence of multiple and sometimes conflicting interests across actors in a production and consumption system, respectively. We point out characteristic methodological differences and conclude that S-LCA would benefit from greater pluralism.
Henrikke Baumann, Rickard Arvidsson

Chapter 7. Sustainable Guar Initiative, Social Impact Characterization of an Integrated Sustainable Project

Sustainable Guar Initiative is a three-year long integrated program aiming at developing sustainable guar production within the Bikaner district in Rajasthan, India. SGI was set up by Solvay, L’Oréal, HiChem and the NGO TechnoServe. To confirm and consolidate the relevance of the program and to identify potential improvement opportunities, an environmental and social Life Cycle Assessment has been conducted, comparing the guar production before and after the Sustainable Guar Initiative. This paper focus on methodological aspects related to the Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA): functional unit, scope and rating system definition. We set up a common rating system enabling information aggregation from multiple sources in order to capture the complexity of a product system.
Marie Vuaillat, Alain Wathelet, Paul Arsac

Chapter 8. Generation, Calculation and Interpretation of Social Impacts with the Social Analysis of SEEbalance®

Measuring sustainability is an important prerequisite for making strategic decisions. BASF has developed several instruments to evaluate sustainability whereby the utilization of each method depends on the concrete purpose or issue in question. The new Social Analysis will contribute to this setup by assessing social impacts along the value chain.
The Social Analysis is implemented in the SEEbalance® calculating results with the Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) and with a specific Social Hot Spot Assessment. Both approaches generate, calculate and interpret the social impacts from different perspectives. Different levels and approaches of data generation and calculation are used for drawing conclusions on the social performance of product alternatives fulfilling the same functional unit. The close link to the environmental life cycle assessment enables practitioners a holistic view on sustainability aspects which in turn support decision-making processes.
For the assessments, processes and decision trees to harmonize the generation of coherent results were developed and will support the data generation process. Different levels of interpretation of findings leading to overall results support and harmonize the interpretation of the findings significantly.
Peter Saling, Ana Alba Perez, Peter Kölsch, Thomas Grünenwald

Chapter 9. Proposal of Social Indicators to Assess the Social Performance of Waste Management Systems in Developing Countries: A Brazilian Case Study

The Brazilian National Solid Waste Policy Law promotes sustainable integrated solid waste management nationally, and is committed to improve “informal” recyclable waste pickers’ socio-economic conditions. This has led municipalities to develop waste management strategies to incorporate “informal” waste pickers into the “formal” system. In order to measure the social improvement achieved by this action, it is necessary to define a set of indicators capable of quantifying the social performance of waste management systems that adapt specifically to developing countries.
In this study, a set of social impact categories, indicators and metrics capable of assessing the socio-economic and labour conditions of the different stakeholders involved in the life cycle of a municipal solid waste management (MSWM) system is proposed. Then they are applied to a case study in the city of João Pessoa, Paraíba (Brazil). João Pessoa is one of the pioneering Brazilian cities to incorporate a door-to-door selective waste collection system managed by the previous “informal” waste pickers, reorganised into associations or cooperatives of collectors of recyclable materials. Although this waste collection system has steadily expanded around the city until the present-day, it has never been analysed from a social perspective.
Valeria Ibañez-Forés, María D. Bovea, Claudia Coutinho-Nóbrega

Chapter 10. Social Assessment in the Design Phase of Automotive Component Using the Product Social Impact Assessment Method

This paper shows one of the first example of S-LCA application in the automotive sector by means of the Product Social Impact Assessment method, developed by the Roundtable for the Product Social Metrics. The case study concerns a vehicle component. The main companies involved in the production stage have been engaged in the data collection; therefore, this work gave the opportunity to test the method usability as a supporting tool in the design phase. The main outcomes concern: (i) product system and system boundaries definition; (ii) data collection feasibility; (iii) handbook steps applicability. The PSIA quantitative approach proved to be practicable, even if opportunities for improvements have been identified especially regarding the social indicators granularity in terms of their capability to reflect the differences among the alternative design options from a social point of view. This is a decisive aspect to enhance the assessment of social impacts during the product design phase.
Laura Zanchi, Alessandra Zamagni, Silvia Maltese, Rubina Riccomagno, Massimo Delogu

Chapter 11. Social Life Cycle Assessment in Agricultural Systems – U.S. Corn Production as a Case Study

Socio-Economic Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) has proved to be a useful approach for quantitative sustainability assessment. A sustainability assessment method developed by BASF, AgBalance™, includes primary agricultural production that integrates environmental life cycle assessment (LCA), S-LCA and economic cost considerations with quantitative sustainability indicators. It is based on mandatory and optional parts of the ISO 14040 and 14,044 standards (2006) for life cycle assessment. Furthermore, the guidelines of the UNEP/SETAC working group for S-LCA as well as the SA8000 and ISO26000SR standards were followed in the development of the methodology. In a case study, a decade of corn production in Iowa was analyzed in order to compare the sustainability of agricultural practices (Year 2000 vs. Year 2010). The integrated impacts of social indexes in the Iowa farming community yielded a substantial increase in the sustainability performance, mainly driven by the indicators Professional Training, Succession and Gender Equality. In summary, this case study underlines the paradigm of sustainable intensification.
Markus Frank, Thomas Laginess, Jan Schöneboom
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