Date: 01 Mar 2011

A comparison of cut roses from Ecuador and the Netherlands

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Abstract

Purpose

There is a need to assess social impacts of products along the full life cycle, not only to be able to address the “social dimension” in sustainability, but also for potentially improving the circumstances of affected stakeholders. This paper presents a case study for a social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) based on the recently published “Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products” developed by the United Nations Environment Programme/Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (UNEP/SETAC) working group. General aim is to “try out” the proposed method. The case study itself compares the impacts of rose production in Ecuador with the Netherlands. Furthermore, the objective is to identify differences and similarities in environmental and social life cycle modelling and both social and environmental hot spots in each of the life cycles.

Methods

The study considers the production of rose blossoms and the cutting and packaging process in two fictitious companies in Ecuador and the Netherlands. Both rose bouquets are delivered to the European market and auctioned in Aalsmeer, the Netherlands. The social assessment is based on the UNEP/SETAC guidelines for S-LCA. Data are mainly obtained from governmental and non-governmental organisations. For the calculation of the environmental burden, a screening-type LCA is conducted, including midpoint impact assessment.

Results and discussion

This paper asserts that rose production in Ecuador is associated with many negative social effects, e.g. child labour, unfair salary, or bad impairment to health. The rose production in the Netherlands has no obvious negative social impacts but rather ecological consequences. Responsible for this is the high-energy consumption of the greenhouses.

Conclusions

Application of the UNEP/SETAC guidelines in case studies can be encouraged based on results of this case study. The consideration of different stakeholder groups with corresponding, very diverse themes allows a comprehensive analysis of the actual conditions. However, finding suitable indicators to measure the status of the subcategories may be challenging. Moreover, the case study shows that results can be completely different for the environmental and for the social dimension, so that it often will be needed to perform both assessments if a complete picture is required.

Recommendations and perspectives

It will be interesting to apply the UNEP/SETAC approach of S-LCA to other products; products with a more complex life cycle will be a special challenge. As with any new method, getting experience on data collection and evaluation, building a data stock, integrating the method in software, and finding ways for effective communication of results are important steps until integrating S-LCA in routine, recognized decision support.

Responsible editor: Thomas Swarr