Date: 27 May 2009

Societal life cycle assessment—could you repeat the question?

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Can social impacts be quantified?

It is generally accepted that life cycle assessment (LCA) is the predominant methodology for evaluating the environmental impacts of a product system. It is also recognized that it is important to integrate the three pillars of sustainability—ecology, economics, and social equity—using the same functional unit and system boundaries and preferably in quantitative terms in order to evaluate whether alternative product systems are “more or less sustainable.” (Klöpffer 2003, 2008; Reap et al. 2008b). Numerous methodological challenges might lead us to question the feasibility of societal life cycle assessment (SLCA), even though a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) work group determined there were no fundamental barriers (Grießhammer et al. 2006). Social concerns are highly diverse and have spawned more than 200 indicators that are weighted differently by different interest groups (Hunkeler and Rebitzer 2005). Many social indicators either describe ...

Tom Swarr belongs to the panel of Subject Editors for Int J Life Cycle Assess and is responsible for the area of “Societal Life Cycle Assessment.”