Advertisement

The legitimacy of life cycle assessment in the waste management sector

  • David LazarevicEmail author
ADVANCING SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC KNOWLEDGE IN LIFE CYCLE MANAGEMENT

Abstract

Purpose

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is commonly presented as a tool for rational decision-making. It has been increasingly used to support decision-making in situations where multiple actors possess diverse, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives, values and motives. Yet, little effort has been placed on understanding LCA in a social framework of action. This paper aims to analyse the legitimacy of LCA in public sector decision-making situations, the criticisms presented against LCA, and suggest potential ways to alleviate these criticisms.

Methods

This study consists of a case study of the application of LCA in the waste management sector in England and France. To gain an understanding of the justification and criticism of LCA, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with national and local level waste management actors. The justifications and criticism of the application of LCA was analysed through an analytical framework, the economies of worth. This suggests that in situations of disagreement, actors’ justifications are required to show their attachment to plural forms of common good. This work analyses the orders of worth in which justifications and criticisms of the application of LCA were based.

Results and discussion

LCA is applied primarily as a test of environmental efficiency, illustrating a collaboration between the industrial and green orders of worth. Actors apply LCA with the aspiration of replicating the scientific method and producing robust evidence to support the most efficient waste treatment option. In this case, efficiency is coupled with the green order of worth, where gains in efficiency mean lower environmental impacts. Internal criticisms of LCA, based in the industrial order of worth, highlights the limitations of LCA to act as a test of environmental efficiency. Furthermore, criticism based in the civic order of worth highlights the friction which arises in decision-making situations when LCA has been seen to subjugate the civic nature of waste management decisions.

Conclusions

One potential way forward for LCA may be to introduce aspects relevant in the civic order of worth which aims at achieving a compromise between the industrial and civic orders of worth. Envisioning LCA as a process-oriented tool, as opposed to an outcome-oriented tool, can allow for aspects on public involvement in the LCA process, thereby increasing its civic legitimacy.

Keywords

Environmental efficiency Justification Legitimacy Life cycle assessment Orders of worth Waste management 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Nicolas Buclet for his insightful comments, Maëlle Quandalle-Ranoux for her contribution in developing interview guides and conducting interviews in France, and Karoliina Pilli-Sihvola for her comments on the text.

Supplementary material

11367_2015_884_MOESM1_ESM.docx (193 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 192 kb)

References

  1. ADEME (2008) Bilan des connaissances ACV et économiques sur la consigne des emballages boissons et le recyclage des emballages plastiques. Étude réalisée pour le compte de l’ADEME par RDC-Environnement, AngersGoogle Scholar
  2. Baumann H (1998) Life cycle assessment and decision making—theories and practices. Chalmers University of TechnologyGoogle Scholar
  3. Bengtsson M (2000) Weighting in practice: implications for the use of life‐cycle assessment in decision making. J Ind Ecol 4:47–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berkhout F, Howes R (1997) The adoption of life-cycle approaches by industry: patterns and impacts. Resour Conserv Recycl 20:71–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boltanski L, Chiapello E (1999) Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Gallimard, ParisGoogle Scholar
  6. Boltanski L, Thévenot L (1999) The sociology of critical capacity. Eur J Soc Theory 2:359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boltanski L, Thévenot L (2006) On justification: economies of worth. Universtiy, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  8. Boons F, Howard-Grenville J (2009) Introducing the social embeddedness of industrial ecology. Soc. Embed. Ind, EcolCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bras-Klapwijk RM (1998) Are life cycle assessments a threat to sound public policy making? Int J Life Cycle Assess 3:333–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen-Rosenthal E (2000) A walk on the human side of industrial ecology. Am Behav Sci 44:245–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Council Directive (2008) 2008/98/EC of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives.Google Scholar
  12. Dalhammer C (2007) An emerging product approach in environmental law incorporating the life cycle perspective. Lund UniversityGoogle Scholar
  13. DEFRA (2011a) Applying the Waste Hierarchy: evidence summary. Department for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsGoogle Scholar
  14. DEFRA (2011b) Guidance on applying the Waste Hierarchy. Department for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsGoogle Scholar
  15. Eco-Emballages (2002) Eco-efficacité du recyclage des emballages plastique: analyses environnementales et économiques du recyclage des déchets ménagers d’emballages plastique en FranceGoogle Scholar
  16. Eco-Emballages and ADEME (2009) Etude sur l’opportunité du tri et du recyclage des emballages ménagers plastiques autres que bouteilles et flacons. Eco-Embellages and ADEME, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory, Ecobilan and Cadet InternationalGoogle Scholar
  17. Ekvall T, Assefa G, Björklund A et al (2007) What life-cycle assessment does and does not do in assessments of waste management. Waste Manag 27:989–996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eunomia Research and The Open University (2004) Municipal waste management strategies and the land use planning system for waste in England. Eunomia and The Open University, A report to DEFRA and ODPMGoogle Scholar
  19. Frankl P, Rubik F (1999) Life-cycle assessment (LCA) in business. An overview on drivers, applications, issues and future perspectives. Glob Nest Int J 1:185–194Google Scholar
  20. Fullana i Palmer P, Puig R, Bala A et al (2011) From life cycle assessment to life cycle management. J Ind Ecol 15:458–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Godard O, Laurans Y (2004) Evaluating environmental issue-Valuation as co-ordination in a pluralistic world. Ecole Polytechnique, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, ParisGoogle Scholar
  22. Hawken P, Lovins A, Lovins LH (1999) Natural capitalism. York, NewGoogle Scholar
  23. Heiskanen E (1999) Every product casts a shadow: but can we see it, and can we act on it? Environ Sci Pol 2(1):61–74Google Scholar
  24. Heiskanen E (2000) Institutionalization of life-cycle thinking in the everyday discourse of market actors. J Ind Ecol 4:31–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Heiskanen E (2002) The institutional logic of life cycle thinking. J Clean Prod 10:427–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hertwich EG, Hammitt JK, Pease WS (2000) A theoretical foundation for life-cycle assessment. J Ind Ecol 4:13–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. House of Commons (2001) Environment, transport and regional affairs. Fifth report, delivering sustainable waste management. HMSO, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. ISO (2006) Environmental Management - Life cycle assessment - Principles and Framework (ISO 14040:2006)Google Scholar
  29. Jagd S (2011) Pragmatic sociology and competing orders of worth in organizations. Eur J Soc Theory 14:343–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. JRC (2011) Supporting environmentally sound decisions for waste management—a technical guide to life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA) for waste experts and LCA practitioners. Institute for Environment and Sustainability. Joint Research Centre, European Commission, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  31. Lafaye C, Thévenot L (1993) Une justification écologique?: Conflits dans l’aménagement de la nature. Rev Fr Sociol 34:495–524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lazarevic D (2012) Life cycle thinking and waste policy: between science and society. KTH - Royal Intitute of TechnologyGoogle Scholar
  33. Lazarevic D, Buclet N, Brandt N (2012) The application of life cycle thinking in the context of European waste policy. J Clean Prod 29–30:199–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Merlin-Brogniart C (2010) The integration of sustainable development in for-profit public service networks in France. The case of the postal and energy fields (GDF, EDF). Journal of Innovation. Economics 5(1):105Google Scholar
  35. Moody M, Thévenot L (2000) Comparing models of strategy, interests, and the public good in French and American environmental disputes. In: Lamont M, Thévenot L (eds) Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 273–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Patriotta G, Gond J, Schultz F (2011) Maintaining legitimacy: controversies, orders of worth, and public justifications. J Manag Stud 48:1804–1836CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rex E (2008) Marketing for life cycle thinking. Chalmers University of, TechnologyGoogle Scholar
  38. Sinclair P, Cowell S, Löfstedt R, Clift R (2007) A case study in participatory environmental systems assessment with the use of multimedia materials and quantitative LCA. J Environ Assess Policy Manag 9:399–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tironi M (2014) (De)politicising and ecologising bicycles. Journal of Cultural Economy. doi:  10.1080/17530350.2013.838600
  40. Vagt H, Jacob K, Rubik F, et al. (2008) LCA options for sustainable governance assessed. Deliverable D8 of work package 4 of the CALCAS ProjectGoogle Scholar
  41. Vinck D (1999) Les objets intermédiaires dans les réseaux de coopération scientifique: Contribution à la prise en compte des objets dans les dynamiques sociales. Rev Fr Sociol 385–414Google Scholar
  42. Zaccai E (2000) “Ecological-oriented consumption”: a pluriactoral approach. Int J Sust Dev World 3(1):26–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Industrial EcologyKTH - Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden

Personalised recommendations