Social Life Cycle Assessment for better-informed decision-making at policy and business levels


The increasing importance of sustainability makes it necessary to have tools and methodologies that allow for the understanding of sustainability impacts of decision options, such as (a) the choice of materials and products by businesses and individual consumers and the impacts of these products over their life cycle, and (b) the selection of a set of public policies and their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and Circular Economy. According to McKinsey’s survey of nearly 3000 executives, many companies are actively integrating sustainability principles into their businesses by pursuing business goals that go far beyond earlier concern for reputation management—for example, saving energy, developing green products, and retaining and motivating employees, all of which help companies capture value through growth and return on capital. Companies have started to come to grips with the metrics needed and in the absence of clear guidance they are using their own approaches. Sustainability is captured in policy white papers and corporate social responsibility reports e.g. linked to ESG management systems with much more advanced levels of detail and maturity in terms of reporting environmental aspects compared to social aspects. Environmental life cycle assessment (E-LCA) is widely considered as the most suitable method for assessing the environmental performance of a process, material or product, with a global community of practitioners, and hundreds of thousands of studies performed. The assessment of the social dimension is certainly the least developed and applied so far. A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / SETAC working group developed the first S-LCA guidelines in 2009 and a revised version in 2020 (Guidelines for Social LCA of Products and Organizations) under the umbrella of the UNEP Life Cycle Initiative. The still limited application of sound-science social impact assessment methods such as social LCA hinders betters-informed decision-making at business and policy levels.

The overall aim of this session is to promote more SLCA application at policy and business levels.

The specific aims are two-fold: to present (a) best SLCA practices based on the 2020 Social LCA Guidelines and (b) how SLCA contribute to sustainability reporting with examples for selected social LCA metrics (fair salary and gender issues).

Speaker summary

Prof Sonia Valdivia, Scientific Director at the World Resources Forum (WRF)


Sonia Valdivia works at the World Resources Forum (WRF) since 2014 on the areas of ‘sustainable recycling industries’ and ‘life cycle sustainability management’. Before she was Programme Officer at the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, and coordinated the Secretariat of the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative. She was conferred an Honorary Professorship by the Leuphana University of Luneburg. She has a PhD in environmental  management and policies from the Technical University of Karlsruhe (KIT). She is convener of the ISO 59014 on Secondary Materials and MAC member of the Global Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Programme. She is a co-author of the UNEP Guidelines for Social LCA of Products and Organizations (2020), Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter (2017), UNEP/SETAC Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment (2009), ‘Life Cycle Management – How business uses it to decrease footprint, create opportunities and make value chains more sustainable (2011), and ‘UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (2011).’

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