Elisabeth Ekener-Petersen and Åsa Moberg
Potential hotspots identified by social LCA – Part 2: Reflections on a study of a complex product
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Springer, 2012. DOI: 10.1007/s11367-012-0443-6
We present experiences and reflections from social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) case study, the aim of which was to identify social hotspots, test and evaluate the methodology and propose improvements. This paper discusses the usability and applicability of the methodology used based on our experiences from the study. The main issues considered are whether the gathering of data and other information is feasible and straightforward to perform, whether the method provides added value and relevant results and how these can be presented.
We have conducted a generic hotspot assessment on a laptop computer according to the Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products (Benoît and Mazijn 2009). The experiences presented were gathered throughout the case study. The supply chain of the laptop was simplified, and we focused on a limited number of materials. The impacts were assessed in relation to the area of protection on human well-being and to affected stakeholders. Social impacts from the actual use of the product were not included. Methodological sheets were used for guidance on inventory indicators and data sources for data collection. Country-specific data were collected and entered into a spreadsheet. The process has been guided by regular meetings in a reference group, composed of representatives of all stakeholder groups.
Results and discussion
The data collection process was impaired by a lack of data and low data quality. In order to relate the data collected to the product assessed, each country’s share of the activity performed in each phase was determined, and the activity percentage was calculated. In order to consider and relate all the phases in the product system, we used an estimated activity variable due to the lack of data. We developed a new approach to impact assessment. By determining the combination of the most extensive activity, as well as the most negative in the range of possible values for involved countries, we identified the hotspots. The results were not further aggregated in order to promote transparency.
We found the S-LCA methodology to be feasible and useful. By handling all relevant issues within one study using a systems perspective on the product life cycle, knowledge can be gained. However, there are still some major challenges. The definition of relevant indicators, data availability, impact pathways, activity variables, results presentation and possible aggregation, the handling of stakeholder context and the restricted assessment of the use phase were identified as major issues to deal with in further studies. Communication, and hence use of the results, is a crucial issue to enable the outcome of a study to result in actions that actually improve human well-being.
Ekener-Petersen, E., Finnveden, G. (2012) Potential hotspots identified by social LCA — part 1: a case study of a laptop computer. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. DOI: 10.1007/s11367-012-0442-7