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Subcategory assessment method for social life cycle assessment. Part 1: methodological framework

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The aim of this work is to propose an objective method for evaluating subcategories in social life cycle impact assessment (S-LCIA). Methods for assessing subcategories have been available since 2006, but a number of these either fail to include all the subcategories envisaged in the guidelines for S-LCA (UNEP/SETAC 2009) or are subjective in their assessment of each subcategory.


The methodology is characterized by four steps: (i) the use of the organization as unit process, in which it was decided to assess the social profile of the organization responsible for the processes involved in the product life cycle, (ii) definition of the basic requirement to assess each subcategory, (iii) definition of levels based on the environment context or organizational practice and the data availability and (iv) assignment of a quantitative value.

Results and discussion

The result of the method applied was the development of the subcategory assessment method (SAM). SAM is a characterization model that evaluates subcategories during the impact assessment phase. This method is based on the behaviour of organizations responsible for the processes along the product life cycle, thereby enabling a social performance evaluation. The method, thus, presents levels for each subcategory assessment. Level A indicates that the organization exhibits proactive behaviour by promoting basic requirement (BR) practices along the value chain. Level B means that the organization fulfils the BR. Levels C and D are assigned to organizations that do not meet the BR and are differentiated by their context. The greatest difficulty when developing SAM was the definition of the BR to be used in the evaluation of the subcategories, though many indications were present in the methodological sheets.


SAM makes it possible to go from inventory to subcategory assessment. The method supports evaluation across life cycle products, thereby ensuring a more objective evaluation of the social behaviour of organizations and applicable in different countries.


When using SAM, it is advisable to update the data for the context environment. The method might be improved by using data for the social context that would consider not only the country, but also the region, sector and product concerned. A further improvement could be a subdivision of the levels to better encompass differences between organizations. It is advisable to test SAM by applying it to a case study.

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We would like to thank Fabien Brones and anonymous reviewers who, by providing valuable comments, helped improve this paper, as well the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education (CAPES) for their financial support.

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Correspondence to Paola Karina Sanchez Ramirez.

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Responsible editor: Marzia Traverso

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Ramirez, P.K.S., Petti, L., Haberland, N.T. et al. Subcategory assessment method for social life cycle assessment. Part 1: methodological framework. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19, 1515–1523 (2014).

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