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Implementing the guidelines for social life cycle assessment: past, present and future

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2020, 00:00 authored by Olubukola TokedeOlubukola Tokede, Marzia Traverso
This paper takes a critical review of the UNEP/SETAC (2009) Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) of products. This paper, therefore, poses the question: how can the future version(s) of the UNEP/SETAC Guidelines address the challenges associated with implementing case studies in S-LCA?
A systematic mapping review to investigate case-studies in S-LCA has been carried out in which S-LCA was applied in order to analyse the application of the stages of the methodology. We appraise 58 case studies published between 2009 and 2019 in peer-reviewed International Journals and analysed the trends and contributions in relation to the practice of S-LCA. More published papers were collected between July 2018 and June 2019 (because of the publication of a Special Issue on the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment in March 2018), and critically reviewed to identify key patterns and insights from the case studies.
Results and Discussion
It was found that only 47% of the subcategories specified by the current UNEP/SETAC Guidelines are implemented in the case–studies examined. Our review suggests four main initiatives that future S-LCA Guidelines should consider. Firstly, there is a need to encourage case studies that focus on the social impacts of 'Consumers' and 'Value-chain Actors' to understand better the opportunities for enhancing social sustainability considerations of marginalised stakeholder groups. Secondly, indicators cannot be homogenised across all sectors and disciplines, and the relevance of each indicator needs to be localised and justified in respective studies. Thirdly, there is a need for a robust theoretical orientation in S-LCA - one that is more inclusive and flexible, to improve on contextual relevance in future case studies. Lastly, the revised Guidelines should aspire to provide more clarity on justifying the context and choice of functional units in S-LCA studies.
The insights developed in this study are useful for practitioners and scholars involved in S-LCA. The revision of the Guidelines can ensure that S-LCA in future case-studies can better create opportunities for improving the well-being of all stakeholders. It is instructive that both local contextualisation of indicators and establishing stakeholder concerns through participatory approaches will facilitate an improved understanding of the social impact assessment of products and their potential positive and negative impacts along their life cycle. Addressing the challenges with the current Guidelines will ultimately strengthen S-LCA by improving an understanding of relevant indicators, thus allowing for an improvement in social conditions for all stakeholders.



International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment (SOCIETAL LCA)




1910 - 1929




Heidelberg, Germany





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

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2020, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature