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Contributions to the sustainable development goals in life cycle sustainability assessment: Insights from the Handprint research project

Abstract

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent consensual, global scale targets, encouraging not only the fight against unsustainable aspects in society (e. g., poverty or hunger) but also positive contributions to sustainable development (e. g., renewable energy use or human well-being). The SDGs are, however, not per se designed as a performance measurement system for businesses and products. Consequently, research is challenged to develop convincing approaches and indicator systems that capture how businesses contribute to the SDGs.

Against this background, the Handprint approach was developed. This paper documents methodological developments of a respective research project and extends the focus from reducing unsustainable, negative business practices toward striving for positive contributions to sustainable development in sustainability assessment and management. We first summarize the status quo of assessing positive contributions to sustainable development in research and practice. While a “Footprint” approach primarily measures negative environmental and/or social impacts, the “Handprint” approach focuses on positive contributions to sustainable development. Second, we illustrate and prioritize core assessment categories and indicators. Third, we describe how a sustainability assessment approach to evaluate positive contributions to sustainable development at the product level was developed and demonstrate its feasibility in a pilot case study.

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Acknowledgements

The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (grant number: 01UT1422C), for which the authors and project team are very grateful.

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Correspondence to Samanthi Silva.

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M. Kühnen, S. Silva, J. Beckmann, U. Eberle, R. Hahn, C. Hermann, S. Schaltegger and M. Schmid declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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Kühnen, M., Silva, S., Beckmann, J. et al. Contributions to the sustainable development goals in life cycle sustainability assessment: Insights from the Handprint research project. NachhaltigkeitsManagementForum 27, 65–82 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00550-019-00484-y

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Keywords

  • Handprint
  • Life cycle sustainability assessment
  • Sustainable development goals
  • Product sustainability assessment
  • Multi-method approach
  • Fuzzy set theory