Rigor in social life cycle assessment: improving the scientific grounding of SLCA
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Social life cycle assessment (SLCA) is developing rapidly and represents a valuable complement to other life cycle methods. As methodological development continues, a growing number of case studies have noted the need for more scientific rigor in areas like data collection, allocation methods, and incorporation of values and cultural context. This work aims to identify opportunities, especially in the social sciences, to improve rigor in SLCA.
A review of existing literature and tools is based on both hand coding of the SLCA literature as represented in Web of Science’s “All Collections” database and on computer-aided review of the SLCA and other related literatures (including social impact assessment (SIA), life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA), and corporate social responsibility (CSR)) using a text mining technique known as topic modeling. Rapid diagnosing of potentially valuable contributions from literatures outside of SLCA through computer-aided review led to more detailed, manual investigation of those literatures for further insight.
Results and discussion
Data collection can benefit from increased standardization and integration with social science methods, especially frameworks for surveys and interviews. Sharing examples of questionnaires and ethics committee protocols will likely improve SLCA’s accessibility. SIA and CSR also represent empirical data sources for SLCA. Impact allocation techniques can benefit from reintegration with those in ELCA, in particular by allocating (when necessary) at facility—rather than product—level. The focus on values and subjectivity in SLCA is valuable not only for SLCA but also for other methods, most notably ELCA. Further grounding in social science is likely to improve rigor in SLCA.
SLCA is increasingly robust and contributing to interdisciplinary discussions of how best to consider social impacts. This work makes three major recommendations for continued growth: first, that SLCA standardize human subject research used for data gathering; second, that SLCA adopt allocation techniques from ELCA; and third, that SLCA continue to draw on social science and other literatures to rigorously include value systems.
KeywordsLife cycle assessment (LCA) Life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) Social impact assessment (SIA) Social life cycle assessment (SLCA) Social science Values
The contributions of several anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. DGE-114747. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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