395394 - Developing Social Elements of Life Cycle Assessment
Tuesday, June 5
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Location: Northstar B
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a major decision support tool with a historical grounding in engineering, natural science, and physical science. Efforts to use LCA for integrated assessment of environmental, financial, and social impacts increasingly take the name “life cycle sustainability assessment,” or LCSA, which in turn builds on three constituent methods of environmental LCA (E-LCA), life cycle costing (LCC), and social LCA (S-LCA). Of these, S-LCA is the least developed. LCA users have consistently noted the need for explicit consideration of social outcomes to support decisions, particularly in public policy contexts. One major challenge for S-LCA is that it has tended to be isolated from social science attention and thus lacks rigorous, modern scientific grounding. This isolation is less of a problem for other social assessment methods, like social impact assessment and corporate social responsibility approaches, but those lack the breadth and relatively higher level of intellectual independence of S-LCA given their grounding in regulation and business, respectively. Social science involvement in developing S-LCA is needed if social life cycle methods are to attain the high standards of rigor and usefulness expected of environmental and cost-based life cycle methods. As applied scientists and problem solvers, engineers should seek and welcome such involvement. This presentation builds on two recent pieces on social life cycle assessment to describe the history, status, and meaning of social integration with life cycle methods. Further, it will address areas of need, including definition and development of social indicators, approaches to defining scope and measurement approaches, and critical assessment of the full suite of life cycle methods with respect to justice, ethics, application, and other issues.