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The legitimacy of life cycle assessment in the waste management sector
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Ecology (moved 20130630).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9869-9707
2015 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle AssessmentArticle in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: Life cycle assessment (LCA) is commonly presented as a tool for rational decision-making. It has been increasingly used to support decision-making in situations where multiple actors possess diverse, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives, values and motives. Yet, little effort has been placed on understanding LCA in a social framework of action. This paper aims to analyse the legitimacy of LCA in public sector decision-making situations, the criticisms presented against LCA, and suggest potential ways to alleviate these criticisms.

Methods: This study consists of a case study of the application of LCA in the waste management sector in England and France. To gain an understanding of the justification and criticism of LCA, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with national and local level waste management actors. The justifications and criticism of the application of LCA was analysed through an analytical framework, the economies of worth.This suggests that in situations of disagreement, actors’ justifications are required to show their attachment to plural forms of common good. This work analyses the orders of worth in which justifications and criticisms of the application of LCA were based.

Results and discussion: LCA is applied primarily as a test of environmental efficiency, illustrating a collaboration between the industrial and green orders of worth. Actors apply LCA with the aspiration of replicating the scientific method and producing robust evidence to support the most efficient waste treatment option. In this case, efficiency is coupled with the green order of worth, where gains in efficiency mean lower environmental impacts. Internal criticisms of LCA, based in the industrial order of worth, highlights the limitations of LCA to act as a test of environmental efficiency. Furthermore, criticism based in the civic order of worth highlights the friction which arises in decision-making situations when LCA has been seen to subjugate the civic nature of waste management decisions.

Conclusions: One potential way forward for LCA may be to introduce aspects relevant in the civic order of worth which aims at achieving a compromise between the industrial and civic orders of worth. Envisioning LCA as a process-oriented tool, as opposed to an outcome-oriented tool, can allow for aspects on public involvement in the LCA process, thereby increasing its civic legitimacy.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer, 2015.
Keyword [en]
Life cycle thinking; Life cycle assessment; waste; justification; legitimacy
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105801DOI: 10.1007/s11367-015-0884-9OAI: diva2:572345

QC 20160226

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-27 Last updated: 2016-02-26Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Life Cycle Thinking and Waste Policy: Between Science and Society
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life Cycle Thinking and Waste Policy: Between Science and Society
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates the application of life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA) in the field of waste management from perspectives based in the social sciences. LCT is explored through the theoretical construct of regimes, drawing theoretical resources from a combination of the ‘pragmatic turn’, the economics of conventions and transition theory.This work is based on eight papers treating theoretical arguments, qualitative and quantitative analysis, case studies and semi-structured interview data. LCT is placed in the context of contemporary societies. LCA is seen as an instrument of quantification and evaluation used by actors which have both similar and disparate objectives, and who offer justifications for its use through arguments embedded in conflicting pluralities of worth. Furthermore, this work analyses LCA as a tool for the qualification of the waste hierarchy; a waste management principle articulating a convention based on closed material cycles. This study argues that the technological trajectory of waste management regimes has been significantly influenced, inter alia, by actors’ institutional articulation of the waste hierarchy at national and territorial levels. It discusses the legitimacy of LCA, and the quantitative application of LCT, as an intermediary object used to qualify the waste hierarchy. Furthermore, LCT is placed in a prospective context which may be used to assist in the transition toward sustainable waste management.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2012. xiii, 131 p.
Trita-IM, ISSN 1402-7615 ; 2012:30
Life cycle thinking; life cycle assessment; waste policy; waste hierarchy; coordination; conventions; legitimacy
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105781 (URN)978-91-7501-555-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-12-17, F3, Lindstedtsvägen, 26, KTH, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)

QC 20121127

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-26 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved

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