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Tracking down Social Impacts of Products with Social Life Cycle Assessment
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Environmental Strategies Research (fms). KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Centres, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Centres, Centre for Sustainable Communications, CESC.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7521-2310
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

An important aspect of sustainable development is the social impacts from the consumption of goods and services. A recently developed method for social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) assesses the potential positive and negative social impacts along a product’s life cycle, while avoiding shifting negative impacts from one part of the supply chain to another. This thesis evaluated the applicability of S-LCA in three case studies, as well as a way of introducing an ethical perspective on the distribution of social impacts among stakeholders.

The case study of laptop computers identified workers and the local community as the stakeholders at greatest risk of negative social impacts, with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Brazil being most prone to these impacts. A case study of vehicle fuels identified some fossil and some renewable fuels with high or very high risks of negative impacts, suggesting a need for strict procurement requirements on social performance for all types of vehicle fuels. A study of e-waste recycling in Pakistan revealed negative social impacts on workers and the community, while decreasing poverty by providing employment.

By performing a social hotspot assessment using S-LCA methodology, much can be learned about the potential social impacts associated with a product’s life cycle, and potentially important aspects that would otherwise have been neglected can be identified. Some methodological issues of S-LCA requiring further attention are:

Indicator relevance. Impact pathways between indicators and performance assessment on social issues must be examined and improved.

Aggregation and weighting of impacts and indicators. With major uncertainties still present, results must be transparent, but also aggregated for the purposes of interpretation and communication.

Assessment of the use phase. To be more complete, S-LCA methodology needs to be complemented with an assessment of the use phase.

Introduction of context. Identifying the context of relevant stakeholders in different parts of the life cycle would allow identification of the greatest leverage in improvement of social conditions.

Abstract [sv]

En viktig del av hållbar utveckling är att hantera social påverkan från konsumtionen av varor och tjänster. Social livscykelanalys (S - LCA) är en metod som syftar till att bedöma positiv och negativ social påverkan av produkter under hela deras livscykel och samtidigt undvika att bara flytta negativ påverkan från en del av livscykeln till en annan. Denna avhandling utvärderar S - LCA i tre fallstudier, samt undersöker hur fördelningen av den sociala påverkan på olika intressentgrupper kan bedömas ur ett etiskt perspektiv.

I en fallstudie som utfördes på en laptop identifierades arbetstagare och lokalsamhället som de intressenter, som löper störst risk för negativ social påverkan. Länder som Kina, Ryssland, Saudiarabien, Thailand och Brasilien var de som var mest kopplade till denna påverkan. En fallstudie kring fordonsbränslen visade att av de bränslen som bedömts uppvisade både en del fossila och en del förnybara bränslen höga eller mycket höga risker för negativ social påverkan, vilket tyder på att strikta upphandlingskrav gällande social prestanda behövs för alla typer av drivmedel. En studie av återvinning av elektroniskt avfall i Pakistan uppvisade påtaglig negativ social påverkan på arbetstagarna och lokalsamhället, samtidigt som återvinningen gav sysselsättning som minskar fattigdomen.

Genom att använda S-LCA vid bedömningen av en produkt finns det mycket att lära om potentiell social påverkan från produktens livscykel. Viktiga aspekter, som annars riskerar att missas, kan nu identifieras med S-LCA. Metoden är dock inte färdigutvecklad, och metodfrågor som behöver ytterligare uppmärksamhet är:

Relevanta indikatorer. Kopplingen mellan indikatorerna och den påverkan man försöker mäta måste undersökas närmare och förbättras.

Sätt att aggregera och väga ihop påverkan. Med tanke på de osäkerheter som ännu så länge finns kring metoden måste resultaten hållas transparenta, samtidigt som sammanfattande resultat behövs för tolkning och kommunikation.

Påverkan i användningsfasen. För att bli mer komplett, måste metoden kompletteras med en bedömning av social påverkan i användningsfasen.

Sätta resultaten i sitt sammanhang. Utgångsläget för dem, som berörs av en produkts sociala påverkan avgör vilken hävstångseffekt en förbättring av de sociala förhållandena kan ha, och kan därmed påverka vilka åtgärder som bör prioriteras.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2013. , 57 p.
Series
TRITA-FMS-PHD, 2013:01
Keyword [en]
Social Life Cycle Assessment
National Category
Other Engineering and Technologies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-137974ISBN: 978-91-7501-976-5 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-137974DiVA: diva2:680005
Public defence
2014-01-17, D2, Lindstedtsvägen 5, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20131217

Available from: 2013-12-17 Created: 2013-12-17 Last updated: 2014-01-07Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Potential hotspots identified by social LCA - Part 1: A case study of a laptop computer
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Potential hotspots identified by social LCA - Part 1: A case study of a laptop computer
2013 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, ISSN 0948-3349, E-ISSN 1614-7502, Vol. 18, no 1, 127-143 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: A generic hotspot assessment of social impacts from a product was conducted, using a laptop computer as a case. The aims of the case study were to identify social hotspots of the laptop and to test and evaluate the methodology. Methods: The case study was based on the social LCA methodology described in the Guidelines for social LCA and included the product system from 'cradle to grave' as well as the impacts on all relevant stakeholders. We focused on a simplified list of materials and used mainly country-specific data. Results and discussion: A new method for impact assessment of hotspots was developed. The total activity in each phase was distributed among countries. The countries were divided into groups related to the extent of activity in the product system, as well as to their performance on a subcategory. High values in both groups were highlighted and hotspots were identified. The results revealed some hotspots, some hot countries and some hot issues, all indicating a risk of negative social impacts in the product system of a laptop. It also identified workers and the local community as the stakeholders most at risk of negative social impacts. Among the hotspots identified, the following subcategories were of importance: safe and healthy living conditions, social benefit/social security, access to material resources, involvement in areas with armed conflicts, community engagement (lack of), corruption, and access to immaterial resources. Conclusions: The study showed it is possible to conduct a social LCA on a generic complex product using the Guidelines, even though data collection was impaired by lack of data and low data quality. It identified methodological issues that need further attention, for example the indicator impact pathways. Still, it is clear that new insights can be gained by social LCA, where the life cycle perspective and the systematic approach help users identify potentially important aspects that could otherwise have been neglected.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer Berlin/Heidelberg, 2013
Keyword
Case study, Generic assessment, Hotspot, Impact assessment, Laptop computer, S-LCA, Social LCA, Social life cycle assessment
National Category
Environmental Management
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-107269 (URN)10.1007/s11367-012-0442-7 (DOI)000313165600013 ()2-s2.0-84872326651 (Scopus ID)
Funder
Vinnova
Note

QC 20130207

Available from: 2012-12-10 Created: 2012-12-10 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
2. Potential hotspots identified by social LCA-Part 2: Reflections on a study of a complex product
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Potential hotspots identified by social LCA-Part 2: Reflections on a study of a complex product
2013 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, ISSN 0948-3349, E-ISSN 1614-7502, Vol. 18, no 1, 144-154 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: 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. Method: 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. Conclusions: 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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer Berlin/Heidelberg, 2013
Keyword
Case study, Generic assessment hotspot, Impact assessment, Laptop computer, S-LCA, Social LCA, Social life cycle assessment
National Category
Environmental Management
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-107272 (URN)10.1007/s11367-012-0443-6 (DOI)000313165600014 ()2-s2.0-84872303714 (Scopus ID)
Funder
Vinnova
Note

QC 20121218

Available from: 2012-12-10 Created: 2012-12-10 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
3. Lessons learned: Review of LCAs for ICT products and services
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Lessons learned: Review of LCAs for ICT products and services
2014 (English)In: Computers in industry (Print), ISSN 0166-3615, E-ISSN 1872-6194, Vol. 65, no 2, 211-234 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Application of information and communication technology (ICT) is often expected to result in decreased environmental impacts. Several studies have, however, also addressed the possibilities of negative impacts. It is therefore important to assess environmental impacts of ICT products and services. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool for assessing the potential impacts of a product or service over the whole life-cycle, i.e. from raw material acquisition to waste management via production and use phases. The aim of this paper is to review LCA studies of ICT products and services, including a few Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) studies. Many of the studies have considered consumer products, such as computers and TVs. Other consumer products, such as game consoles and TV peripherals, as well as business products, e.g. related to networks, are however more rarely assessed. Manufacturing and use phase have the highest impact in the life cycle. Use phase seems to be the predominant in energy consumption and global warming for some ICT products but for others, especially energy efficient, low weight products, manufacturing may dominate. Rapid technological development is stressed by several authors as a source of variability of results, impacting the production processes and suppliers as well as the content and energy performance of the actual devices. In the future, conducting LCA on ICT, the research community needs to consider the limitations found in the studies conducted so far. It encompasses, among others, the need to address a broad spectrum of environmental impacts, including human and ecotoxicological impacts; modeling actual e-waste management, covering informal management when relevant; and considering user behavior in a realistic way, accounting for rebound and other indirect effects.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2014
Keyword
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Information and communication technology (ICT), Environmental impact, Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA), Social impact, Electronic devices
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-137192 (URN)10.1016/j.compind.2013.10.003 (DOI)000331682900001 ()2-s2.0-84888213904 (Scopus ID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Note

QC 20140221

Available from: 2013-12-11 Created: 2013-12-11 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved

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