Ecological modernization, techno-politics and social life cycle assessment: a view from human geography
- 299 Downloads
Although Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) is a growing field of inquiry and intervention, to date, there has been a dearth of engagement between this field and critical social scientists interested in questions of the societal impacts of goods and services. In response, this paper is written from the perspectives of two human geographers, new to the field of SLCA. Our aim is to offer an ‘outsiders’ perspective of, and commentary on, the growing field of SLCA, which we frame as a form of political intervention that seeks to have real-world impacts on the lives and futures of diverse peoples and places.
To address these questions, we explore SLCA’s underpinning assumptions by critically reviewing the worldviews that inform its methods, including debates in the literature about sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.
Results and discussion
SLCA’s normative and practical applications resonate strongly with an ecological modernization framework. This framework forwards social change via incremental and institutional interventions that promotes continued development, and privileges objectivity, impartiality and the search for a totalizing knowledge of the impacts of good and services.
Exploring SLCA’s epistemological foundations illuminates, and in turn, can help to address some of the key challenges SLCA currently faces. Drawing attention to SLCA’s inheren raison d’etre encourages more debate about the overall intentions and limits of the field, and represents not a weakness but rather its inherent quality of exploring the complex world of social impacts.
KeywordsEcological modernization Social life cycle assessment Sustainable development Techno-politics
This research was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant EP/K026380/1 ‘Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER)’.
- Beloe S, Elkington J, Prakash-Mani K, Thorpe J, Zollinger P (2004) Gearing up: from corporate responsibility to good governance and scalable solutions, Global Compact. Retrieved June 2015 from www.ibram.org.br/sites/1300/1382/00000768.pdf
- Benoit C, Mazijn B (2009) Guidelines for social life cycle assessment of products. Life Cycle InitiativeGoogle Scholar
- Drexhage J, Murphy D (2010) Sustainable Development: from Brundtland to Rio 2012. United Nations, Background Paper, Retrieved June 2015 from http://www.un.org/wcm/webdav/site/climatechange/shared/gsp/docs/GSP1-6_Background%20on%20Sustainable%20Devt.pdf
- Ebrahim A (2003) Making sense of accountability: Conceptual perspectives for northern and southern nonprofits. Nonprofit Manag and Leadership 14(2):191–212Google Scholar
- Ecomodernism.org (2015) ‘An ecomodernist manifesto’. Retrieved June 2015 from http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5515d9f9e4b04d5c3198b7bb/t/552d37bbe4b07a7dd69fcdbb/1429026747046/An+Ecomodernist+Manifesto.pdf
- Fava J, Consoli F, Denison R, Dickson K, Mohin T, Vigon B (1993) A conceptual framework for life cycle impact assessment, workshop report society of environmental toxicology and chemistry (SETAC). Foundation for Environmental Education, PensacolaGoogle Scholar
- Hajer M (1995) The politics of environmental discourse: ecological modernisation and the policy process. Clarendon Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Hamilton C, Gemenne F, Bonneuil C (2015) The anthropocene and the global environmental crisis: rethinking modernity in a new epoch. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Harvey D (1996) Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- Harvey D (2014) Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- Jackson T (2009) Prosperity without growth. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Klöpffer W (2014) Background and Future Prospects in Life Cycle Assessment. Springer, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Latour B (1987) Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
- Macombe C, Lagarde V, Falque A, Feschet P, Garrabé M, Gillet C, Loeillet D (2013) Social LCAs: socio-economic effects in value chains. Fruitrop Thema, ParisGoogle Scholar
- McWilliams A, Siegel DS, Wright PM (2006) Corporate social responsibility: strategic implications. Manag Stud 42:1–19Google Scholar
- Mol AP, Spaargaren G (2000) Ecological modernisation theory in debate: a review. Environ Polit 9(1):17–49Google Scholar
- Parr A (2014) The wrath of capital: neoliberalism and climate change. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Robbins P (2004) Political ecology. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- Schor JB (2010) Plenitude: the new economics of true wealth. Penguin Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Simons H (2009) Case study research in practice. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Spaargaren G, Van Vliet B (2000) Lifestyles, consumption and the environment: the ecological modernization of domestic consumption. Environ Pollut 9(1):50–76Google Scholar
- Sutton PW (2007) The environment: a sociological introduction. Polity Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
- UNEP (2013) Greening the Economy through Life Cycle Thinking, United Nations Environment Programme. Retrieved June 2015, from http://www.unep.fr/scp/publications/details.asp?id=DTI/1536/PA
- WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) (1987) Our common future. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- Wilkinson RG, Pickett K (2011) The spirit level. Tantor Media, Inc., ConnecticutGoogle Scholar
- York R, Rosa E, Dietz T (2010) Ecological modernization theory: theoretical and empirical challenges. In: Redclift M, Woodgate G (eds) The international handbook of environmental sociology. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, Cheltenham, pp 77–90Google Scholar