Social Life-Cycle Assessment (SCLA) and SocioGrade

Social and societal impacts are essential in the analysis and improvement of the sustainability of products. Since it is more difficult to investigate and to evaluate them than ecological and economic aspects, they have long been neglected. This was the reason that – in the development of the PROSA method – the focus was placed on the integration of societal and social aspects. On the one hand, this involved the analysis of the social utility [Link] and, on the other hand the problems in the manufacture of products, particularly in emerging and developing countries. To this end, a case study was conducted ( Social Impacts of the Production of Notebook PCs) and a first draft of the method was presented together with UNEP and the Life Cycle Initiative (feasibility study: Integration of Social Aspects into LCA Grießhammer et al. 2006)

A cooperation venture between UNEP-SETAC and Oeko-Institute resulted 2009 in a first methodological description of a product-related Social Life-Cycle Assessment, SLCA: the UNEP-SETAC Guidelines for Social Life Cycle of Products have been published in cooperation with the Oeko-Institute. Several companies – for instance, BASF, Procter&Gamble and Deutsche Telekom – are working with company-specific tools to collect data on social aspects.

Further studies are to be found in the topic areas of Resources and E-waste.

Special features of SLCA

Compared with Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), Social Life-Cycle Assessment (SCLA) has certain distinctive features which can be managed with ease provided that they are given some thought at an early stage:

  • Social aspects can be highly diverse and weighted in highly disparate ways by different stakeholder groups in different countries and regions. Social evaluations also change much more quickly over time than environmental evaluations, for example.
  • Major importance therefore attaches to the pre-selection of the social aspects to be considered in depth. Pre-selection is thus a part of the normative evaluation.
  • So far the availability of data has been poor. Normally neither quantitative nor qualitative data alone will provide sufficient information; both kinds are needed.

The above enumeration of difficulties should not be taken as a deterrent. On the contrary: there is rarely such an opportunity to learn about one’s own products, company and customers as during the completion of a SLCA.