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Addressing positive impacts in social LCA—discussing current and new approaches exemplified by the case of vehicle fuels

Abstract

Purpose

This paper seeks ways to address positive social impacts in social life cycle assessment (SLCA) and attempts to answer two questions: How can the SLCA methodology be improved in order to systematically identify all potential positive impacts in the supply chain? How can positive impacts be taken into consideration along with negative impacts in SLCA? In order for SLCA to be an attractive tool, it needs to provide users with the possibility to include positive impacts, not as variables stipulating lack of negative impacts but rather as fulfilment of positive potentials.

Methods

By scrutinising the social impacts addressed in the SLCA UNEP/SETAC Guidelines today and reviewing approaches for positive impacts in other research fields, a developed approach to capture and aggregate positive social impacts in SLCA is proposed. To exemplify the application, the case of vehicle fuels is used to investigate the possibilities of addressing positive impacts in SLCA. This includes a literature review on potential positive social impacts linked to vehicle fuels.

Results and discussion

The subcategories in the SLCA Guidelines are proposed to be divided into positive and negative impacts and complemented with some additional positive impacts. Related indicators are proposed. A draft approach for assessing positive impacts is developed where the proposed indicators are categorised in four different levels, from low to very high potential positive impact. The possibility to aggregate positive social impacts is discussed. Besides multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA), few useful ideas for aggregating positive impacts in SLCA were found in the literature that mostly focused on surveys and monetarisation. Positive social impacts linked to vehicle fuels (fossil fuels and biofuels) are identified, and the proposed approach is schematically applied to vehicle fuels.

Conclusions

The SLCA methodology may be refined in order to better identify and assess positive impacts, and approaches developed for capturing and aggregating such impacts are proposed. Challenges of aggregating positive and negative social impacts still remain. The knowledge on social impacts from vehicle fuels could be improved by applying the proposed approach. However, the approach needs more development to be practically applicable.

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Acknowledgments

This publication is the result of a project within the Renewable Fuels and Systems Programme (Samverkansprogrammet Förnybara drivmedel och system), funded by the Swedish Energy Agency and the Swedish Knowledge Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels (f3). The f3 Centre contributes, through knowledge based on science, to the development of environmentally, economically and socially sustainable and renewable transportation fuels, as part of a future sustainable society (see www.f3centre.se/samverkansprogram). The authors would also like to acknowledge the valuable inputs and comments from the two anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Elisabeth Ekener.

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Responsible editor: Catherine Macombe

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Ekener, E., Hansson, J. & Gustavsson, M. Addressing positive impacts in social LCA—discussing current and new approaches exemplified by the case of vehicle fuels. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 556–568 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1058-0

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Keywords

  • Aggregation
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Positive impact
  • Social assessment
  • Social impact
  • Social LCA