The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

, Volume 18, Issue 9, pp 1686–1697 | Cite as

Life cycle sustainability assessment in the context of sustainability science progress (part 2)

  • Serenella Sala
  • Francesca Farioli
  • Alessandra Zamagni



In the context of progress of sustainability science, life cycle thinking and, in particular, life cycle sustainability assessment may play a crucial role. Environmental, economic and social implications of the whole supply chain of products, both goods and services, their use and waste management, i.e. their entire life cycle from “cradle to grave” have to be considered to achieve more sustainable production and consumption patterns. Progress toward sustainability requires enhancing the methodologies for integrated assessment and mainstreaming of life cycle thinking from product development to strategic policy support. Life cycle assessment (LCA), life cycle costing (LCC) and social LCA (sLCA) already attempt to cover sustainability pillars, notwithstanding different levels of methodological development. An increasing concern on how to deal with the complexity of sustainability has promoted the development of life cycle sustainability frameworks. As a contribution to the ongoing scientific debate after the Rio+20 conference, this paper aims to present and discuss the state of the art of life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA), giving recommendations for its further development in line with ontological, epistemological and methodological aspects of sustainability science.


Building on the review about the state of the art of sustainability science and sustainability assessment methods presented in part I, this paper discuss LCA, LCC, sLCA and LCSA against ontological, epistemological and methodological aspects of ongoing scientific debate on sustainability. Strengths and weaknesses of existing life cycle-based methodologies and methods are presented. Besides, existing frameworks for LCSA are evaluated against the criteria defined in part I in order to highlight coherence with sustainability science progress and to support better integration and mainstreaming of sustainability concepts.

Conclusions and outlook

LCSA represents a promising approach for developing a transparent, robust and comprehensive assessment. Nevertheless, the ongoing developments should be in line with the most advanced scientific discussion on sustainability science, attempting to bridge the gaps between the current methods and methodologies for sustainability assessment. LCSA should develop so as to be hierarchically different from LCA, LCC and sLCA. It should represent the holistic approach which integrates (and not substitutes) the reductionist approach of the single part of the analysis. This implies maintaining the balance between analytical and descriptive approaches towards a goal and solution-oriented decision support methodology.


Life cycle sustainability assessment Science–policy interface Stakeholder involvement Sustainability science Value choices 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Serenella Sala
    • 1
  • Francesca Farioli
    • 2
    • 3
  • Alessandra Zamagni
    • 4
  1. 1.Sustainability Assessment UnitEuropean Commission–Joint Research Centre Institute for Environment and SustainabilityIspraItaly
  2. 2.Interuniversity Research Centre on Sustainable Development (CIRPS)–Sapienza Università di RomaRomeItaly
  3. 3.Department Mechanical and Aerospace EngineeringSapienza Università di RomaRomeItaly
  4. 4.LCA and Ecodesign LaboratoryItalian National Agency for new Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA)BolognaItaly

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