Back to basics—the school lunch

  • Arne Wangel



The effort to develop social life cycle assessment (Social LCA) along the same principles and procedural steps as LCA has met serious challenges when characterizing social impacts as originating from product life cycles and attributing them to unit processes. This article puts the resulting life cycle CSR and its focus on the production phase on hold. It suggests a research design to support consumers in choosing between, e.g. alternative school lunch scenarios, according to their subjective social and cultural values.


Inspired by Reverse LCA, the focus of life cycle CSR on the production phase is shifted to the consumer need. Reverse LCA claims that starting with the need will point to alternative innovative systems of products and services to fulfil that need. The assessment to identify the system with the minimal environmental impact can then be established in reverse. The concept of foodscape captures the school lunch as a specific configuration of food products, social practices and values. The concept of human well-being defined by Amartya Sen and elaborated by Martha C. Nussbaum helps to characterize the needs involved in the school lunch. The assessment is performed as action research by the community of stakeholders involved and using an interactive scenario analysis.

Results and discussion

As a first step, the outline research design acknowledges that schools embody a distinct and articulate stakeholder community advocating multidimensional needs, the fulfilment of which is continuously evaluated for prioritization and optimization. Second, three preliminary school lunch scenarios are identified. The concept of foodscape is introduced to clarify and characterize dimensions, assumptions and fundamental choices for each scenario. As a third step, stakeholders evaluate and profile each scenario in terms of valuable functionings for human well-being. Furthermore, stakeholders review documentation on environmental and social impacts throughout the earlier stages of the product life cycles involved. The targeted outcome of stakeholders’ negotiation is a decision on a particular configuration, for which an action plan detailing the pathway to the desired school lunch scenario is adopted.


The introduction of the concepts of foodscape and human well-being supports the argument that social LCA needs a strong foundation in social theory for the specific domain to be assessed and for the overall conceptualization of social impacts. Dialogues with social scientists are needed, especially with those who apply a life cycle perspective.


Consumption scenarios Foodscapes Human well-being Reverse LCA Social life cycle assessment 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNEP-DTU Partnership, DTU Management EngineeringTechnical University of Denmark, UN CityCopenhagen ØDenmark

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