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Potential hotspots identified by social LCA—part 1: a case study of a laptop computer

Abstract

Purpose

A generic hotspot assessment of social impacts from a product was conducted, using a laptop computer as a case. The aims of the case study were to identify social hotspots of the laptop and to test and evaluate the methodology.

Methods

The case study was based on the social LCA methodology described in the Guidelines for social LCA and included the product system from ‘cradle to grave’ as well as the impacts on all relevant stakeholders. We focused on a simplified list of materials and used mainly country-specific data.

Results and discussion

A new method for impact assessment of hotspots was developed. The total activity in each phase was distributed among countries. The countries were divided into groups related to the extent of activity in the product system, as well as to their performance on a subcategory. High values in both groups were highlighted and hotspots were identified.

The results revealed some hotspots, some hot countries and some hot issues, all indicating a risk of negative social impacts in the product system of a laptop. It also identified workers and the local community as the stakeholders most at risk of negative social impacts. Among the hotspots identified, the following subcategories were of importance: safe and healthy living conditions, social benefit/social security, access to material resources, involvement in areas with armed conflicts, community engagement (lack of), corruption, and access to immaterial resources.

Conclusions

The study showed it is possible to conduct a social LCA on a generic complex product using the Guidelines, even though data collection was impaired by lack of data and low data quality. It identified methodological issues that need further attention, for example the indicator impact pathways. Still, it is clear that new insights can be gained by social LCA, where the life cycle perspective and the systematic approach help users identify potentially important aspects that could otherwise have been neglected.

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Acknowledgements

Financial support from Vinnova and other partners of the Centre for Sustainable Communications at KTH Royal Institute of Technology is gratefully acknowledged. We want to thank the participants of our internal and external reference groups for constructive and interesting discussions and also Dr. Åsa Moberg for valuable contributions.

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Correspondence to Elisabeth Ekener-Petersen.

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Responsible editor: Thomas Swarr

Preamble

We have conducted a case study of S-LCA on a generic laptop computer. The results of the study are presented in two related papers. This first paper, Part 1, presents the social hotspots of a generic laptop identified in our study. The second paper, Part 2, (Ekener-Petersen and Moberg 2012) discusses the usability and applicability of the methodology proposed in the Guidelines, based on our experiences from the study.

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Ekener-Petersen, E., Finnveden, G. Potential hotspots identified by social LCA—part 1: a case study of a laptop computer. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 127–143 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-012-0442-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-012-0442-7

Keywords

  • Case study
  • Generic assessment
  • Hotspot
  • Impact assessment
  • Laptop computer
  • S-LCA
  • Social LCA
  • Social life cycle assessment