Positive impacts in social life cycle assessment: state of the art and the way forward

  • Silvia Di Cesare
  • Federica Silveri
  • Serenella Sala
  • Luigia Petti



Social life cycle assessment (SLCA) is a methodology under continuous development, which may be applied at different scales: from products to economic sectors up to systems at region (meso) and country (macro) scales. Traditionally, SLCA has been focusing on the assessment of negative social externalities, whereas also positive social impacts could be associated to human interventions. The purpose of the present study is to understand how positive impacts are defined in published literature and how they could be assessed through indicators. The aim is to clarify the concept among scholars and to support decision making in business and policy context.


The study uses a systematic review approach in order to analyse the types of indicators adopted. In the field of SLCA and according to Paragahawewa et al. (2009), “[I]ndicators are ‘pointers’ to the state of the impact categories (and/or subcategories) being evaluated by the SLCA”. Indicators can be quantitative, semi-quantitative or qualitative (UNEP/SETAC 2009). This review was carried out in order to identify and analyse positive impacts and indicators. After careful scrutiny, 47 papers containing theoretical frameworks were considered, as well as 46 papers presenting case studies.

Results and discussion

Compared to environmental life cycle assessment (E-LCA), where the presence of positive impacts is lower, evaluating benefits or positive impacts can still play a major role in SLCA (Benoît et al. 2010). A quarter of the analysed papers on theoretical frameworks take into account the topic of positive impacts and indicators. Results from case study analysis highlight as “workers”, was the most considered stakeholder (in 100 % of the analysed papers), and as the majority of positive indicators used in the case study analysed are recorded in relation to “other value chain actors”. Within the concept of “positive impacts”, no reference should be made merely to the utility of a product or service. In a broader sense, we could refer to solutions improving the conditions of one or various stakeholders involved. In other words, these are solutions that carry a positive contribution to one or more stakeholders without harming others.


So far, positive impacts are barely covered in literature. There is a clear need of streamlining definition and indicators, especially if they should be applied in a policy context complementing traditional—and often monetary-based, cost-benefit analysis (CBA).


Positive impacts Positive indicators Policy support SLCA Social life cycle assessment 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economic StudiesUniversity «G. D’Annunzio»PescaraItaly
  2. 2.CIRAD, UPR GECOMontpellier Cedex 5France
  3. 3.IRSTEA, UMR ITAP – ELSAMontpellier Cedex 5France
  4. 4.European Commission-Joint Research CentreInstitute for Environment and Sustainability - Sustainability Assessment UnitIspraItaly

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