The main challenges for social life cycle assessment (SLCA) to support the social impacts analysis of product-service systems
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This paper aims to investigate the applicability of social life cycle assessment (SLCA) to the social impacts analysis of product-service systems (PSS). The purpose is to discuss the main challenges for this approach to comparing PSS business model alternatives and analyzing the social consequences of PSS introduction into the market.
Two PSS solutions were considered to investigate the applicability and the challenges for SLCA when applied to PSS assessment. A comparative analysis was discussed based on UNEP/SETAC guidelines. The subcategories and social indicators suggested in the guidelines were analyzed, and the indicators considered suitable for the comparison of PSS alternatives, considering the use phase, were identified. Other indicators from the PSS literature were also added to those from the guidelines. To analyze the consequences of PSS implementation, the applicability of consequential SLCA was discussed.
Results and discussion
The main results pointed out that only a few indicators in the SLCA guidelines could be used for comparative PSS analysis. This occurred because only some of the guidelines could be linked to the processes of each PSS. Other indicators identified in the PSS literature are suggested to complement the comparative analysis of PSS alternatives. Concerning the effects of PSS introduction, it can cause social impacts with regard to the company and stakeholders directly involved in the changes in addition to the effects that may occur in other products and services systems as a result of consumers’ behavior and PSS interaction in the market. The consequential modeling is suggested as appropriate for this analysis.
The SLCA approach can be considered suitable for PSS social issues analysis, although there are limitations for a full analysis in this study. Some major challenges for its applicability were identified. First, PSS functional unit modeling should be investigated considering all PSS elements (products and services) and the functions provided by the system. Second, only few indicators in the guidelines were considered appropriate for PSS comparative analysis before its introduction. Finally, concerning consequential SLCA, this could be explored in the context of PSS, but there is still scarce research on this subject. In short, to establish SLCA as a useful and applicable methodology to assess the social impacts of a PSS, further research is required, especially regarding the consequential SLCA.
KeywordsSocial impacts Social life cycle assessment (SLCA) Social performance Sustainability Sustainability assessment Sustainable product-service systems
The authors thank the national research agencies Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) and National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for the financial support of this research project (grant 478166/2012-5). We also would like to acknowledge the reviewers and the guest editors for their valuable contributions, comments, and recommendations.
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