Social aspects for sustainability assessment of technologies—challenges for social life cycle assessment (SLCA)
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Technologies can contribute to sustainable development (e.g., improving living conditions) and at the same time cause sustainability problems (e.g., emissions). Decisions on alternative technologies should thus ideally be based on the principle to minimize the latter. Analyzing environmental, economic, and social aspects related to technologies supports decisions by identifying the “more sustainable” technology. This paper focuses on social issues. First, it discusses the applicability of the social life cycle assessment (SLCA) guidelines for a comparative technology analysis, taking the example of two case studies in developing countries. Indicating technologies as “sustainable” also means that they are indeed operated over the expected lifetime, which, in development projects, is often not guaranteed. Consequently, social aspects related to implementation conditions should be considered in an SLCA study as well. Thus, a second focus is laid on identifying appropriate indicators to address these aspects.
First, the SLCA guidelines were examined with regard to applying this product-related approach to two real case studies (analysis of technologies/plants for water supply and for decentralized fuel production) for a comparative technology analysis. Suitable indicators are proposed. To address the second focus, a literature research on technology assessment and implementation in developing countries was conducted. Moreover, socioeconomic studies in the investigation areas of the case studies were consulted. Based on this, indicators addressing implementation conditions were identified from the SLCA guidelines and additional literature.
Results and discussion
The study shows social issues and indicators found in the SLCA guidelines and considered suitable for a comparative technology analysis in the case studies. However, for a sustainability assessment of technologies, especially in developing countries, further indicators are required to address technology implementation conditions. A set of additional social indicators like reported trust in institutions or fluctuation of personnel is proposed. Though these indicators were derived based on specific case studies, they can also be suggested to other technologies and are not necessarily limited to developing countries.
The study pointed out that an application of the SLCA guidelines considering the whole life cycle was not (yet) feasible for the case studies considered. This is mainly due to the lack of data. Regarding technology implementation, it was examined which indicators are available in this SLCA approach and which could additionally be integrated and applied. This is relevant as a potential contribution of technologies to sustainable development can only be achieved when the technologies are successfully implemented.
KeywordsComparative analysis Indicators Products Social life cycle assessment (SLCA) Sustainability assessment Technology
We would like to acknowledge the profound review of the paper by the anonymous reviewers and thank them for their useful and interesting comments and references proposed.
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