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Designing the social life cycle of products from the systematic competitive model

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Changes affecting how product chains function can have a profound impact on human communities. Certain social life cycle assessment (LCA) methods aim to anticipate the important social effects of changes taking place in the functioning of a product’s life cycle. They therefore must identify the groups that are most affected. This paper aims to help identify the groups affected by competition beyond those usually highlighted. The objective is to propose rules to identify the organisations involved in the social life cycle of a product within a context of competition. Once these organisations are identified, it is possible to deduce which groups are affected.


We analyse how published social LCA studies describe the product system and determine its boundaries. We deduce the necessity of constructing (1) a new model (the systematic competitive model) when there is competition and (2) a cut-off criterion (significant dependency). These allow us to describe the system and determine its boundaries, and thus to draw the social life cycle, in a context of competition. We conducted a simple case study (calculation of the number of rural jobs created/destroyed by a new agricultural filière) in which two methods of representing a product system are compared. The first method is the value chain (which does not take into account the situation prior to the establishment of the planned new filière), the second method introduces the systematic competitive model, which includes the short term effects of competition with the planned activities.


The case study shows that it is possible to define the social life cycle by proceeding in this way. The two ways of representing the same real system produce very different results. The list of organisations affected and the nature of the impact to be assessed determine which actors are affected.


The use of the systematic competitive model is indispensable when competition is intense. The organisations to be included in the boundaries of the social LCA (SLCA) study are those whose behaviour with social effects is significantly affected by the changes. Furthermore, there are numerous other phenomena linked to products that provoke important social impacts, but we do not yet know how to model them. They call for further research. Environmental LCA (ELCA) and SLCA studies of the same real system will be coherent, even if the descriptions of the system and the rules of fixing the boundaries differ, provided they reflect the same scenario.

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  1. From Ekvall (2000), indirect impacts are environmental consequences that are outside of the physical supply chain and result from market forces.

  2. A service activity mainly is characterised by the offer of a technical or intellectual capacity. Understood in the broadest sense, services cover a wide field of activities that range from commerce to administration, passing through financial and real estate activities, scientific and technical activities, administrative and support services, education, health, and social services. This is the meaning generally understood in the Anglo-Saxon use of the word “services” (INSEE 2011).

  3. The farm register of MAFWM only registers agricultural holdings which receive state support from the agricultural budget and/or which actively sell their products on the market.

  4. The annual pork meat consumption in France is 34 kg per capita in 2009 (IFIP 2010).

  5. The calculation was: 150 sows per new farm means seven packs of 21 sows; thus, 147 × 16 fattened pigs/sow/year × 70 kg carcass/pig (see Electronic Supplementary Material 2)


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C. Macombe is member of the ELSA research group (Environmental Life Cycle and Sustainability Assessment,; she thanks all the members of ELSA for their precious advice. The authors thank the helpful comments made by three reviewers.

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Correspondence to Catherine Macombe.

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Responsible editor: Thomas Swarr

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Lagarde, V., Macombe, C. Designing the social life cycle of products from the systematic competitive model. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 172–184 (2013).

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