Product social impact assessment
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Whereas the business evolution of environmental sustainability metrics has advanced significantly over the past decade, social sustainability at product level is still relatively immature. Research continues to support the front runners on organisational sustainability, while workable solutions at product level have not yet been addressed sufficiently. Triggered by this imbalance, a group of experts from large companies decided to join forces, initiating the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics.
Starting in early 2013, this group of companies aimed to (i) consolidate principles for product social sustainability assessment and harmonise approaches, (ii) align with other global initiatives and share with other companies and (iii) develop solutions for cross-cutting implementation issues. In order to be able to produce a comprehensive method for social impact assessment that provides enough flexibility for individual requirements, the Roundtable developed a method based on the approaches of the participant companies and external references such as the UNEP/SETAC Guidelines for Social Life-Cycle Assessment of Products and corporate level standards. Guiding principles were defined for the development of the method.
Results and discussion
The results of the first two phases of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics are documented in a handbook, which proposes a practical method for organisations to assess the social impacts of a product or a service along its life cycle. The handbook outlines an aligned method for social impact assessment at a product level offering two approaches: quantitative and scale based. The method was developed to allow reasoned assessment of overall performance by including social topics and performance indicators that reflect positive and negative impacts of the product on three stakeholder groups: workers, consumers and local communities. Nineteen social topics are proposed, together with their individual performance indicators, including detailed definitions. Application examples and recommendations for the communication of results are also included in the handbook.
The method can be applied in numerous scenarios, from understanding improvement opportunities and steering product development in different stages, to providing support for decision making and external communications. However, the method still has further potential for improvement, inter alia that the proposed indicators are not fully applicable to small farmers, SMEs and the self-employed, as well as that the indicators are mainly at inventory level. Furthermore, the proposed method is strongly dependent on the availability of data.
KeywordsImpact assessment method Performance indicators Roundtable for product social metrics Social impact assessment Social life-cycle assessment Social topics Stakeholder groups Sustainability
The authors would like to thank the external stakeholders that contributed during the development of the handbook for their feedback and invaluable contribution. In addition, we would like to thank the other participants of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics who co-authored the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment version 3.0: Andrea Bolhuis and Karin Bogaers (Ahold), Peter Saling and Richard van Gelder (BASF), Jacobine Das Gupta and Dave Morris (DSM), Dave Woodyard, Lynn Bell and René van der Merwe (Goodyear), Nicola Kimm, Caroline Santamaria Markus Laubscher, Marcel Jacobs(Philips), Dave Challis (RB), Carmen Alvarado (AkzoNobel), Charles Duclaux and Yasmine Slaoui (L’Oréal), Hazel Culley (Marks & Spencer), Sébastien Zinck, Raphael Stermann and Edouard Carteron (Steelcase), Ambalika Gupta (Mahindra Sanyo), Sara Nilsson (Vattenfall), Anne Gaasbeek, Mark Goedkoop and Simon Evitts (PRé Sustainability).
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