LCSA II: Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment II
Time: Wednesday, 31/Aug/2011: 11:15am - 12:30pm
Session Chair: Sonia Valdivia
Session Chair: Jens-Christian Holst
Location: Room 1
2nd floor


Toolbox for a life cycle sustainability assessment of products

Sonia Valdivia1, Andreas Ciroth2, Guido Sonnemann1, Cassia Ugaya3, Bin Lu4, Carmen Alvarado5

1UNEP DTIE, France; 2GreenDelta, Germany; 3Federal Center of Technologic Education, Brazil; 4Chinese Academy of Sciences, China; 5Pré Consultants, Netherlands

Taking the life cycle approach means going beyond the traditional focus on production site and manufacturing processes and including the environmental, social, and economic impact of a product over its entire life cycle. In order to put life cycle thinking into effective practice, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) launched an International Partnership, the so-called ‘Life Cycle Initiative’. The Life Cycle Initiative contributes to the 10-Year Framework of Programs in order to pursue Sustainable Consumption and Production (Marrakech Process). The Project Group of the Life Cycle Initiative on Social Life Cycle Assessment started its work in 2005. Following the completion of the UNEP Guidelines for Social LCA of products, this Project Group has the aim to interlink current LCA tools and provide a triple-bottom-line sustainable development toolbox.

The authors propose a toolbox for Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) based on life cycle based techniques which are ISO 14040 conform: environmental LCA (E-LCA), social LCA (S-LCA) and life cycle costing (LCC). The aim of this toolbox is to contribute to better informed decisions on sustainability aspects of products. The toolbox presents categories and sub-categories of impacts for the three dimensions of sustainability; the toolbox does not imply neither impact assessment methods nor interlinkages models but provides recommendations on how to proceed with results obtained.

The toolbox proposed for LCSA has a high potential to be used by decision makers in Governments, agencies for international cooperation, business and consumers’ associations. Still more research and applications are needed, but its application is already feasible and encouraged to speed the learning curve of the society.

Accounting for sustainability through life cycle assessment (LCA)

Bryan Hartlin

ERM, United Kingdom

Increasingly, organisations are looking beyond their own operational boundaries to develop strategies to manage sustainability issues along their value chains. A key challenge when accounting for sustainability is the initial identification of which environmental, social and economic issues are relevant, and how these are influenced by stakeholders, policy and level of knowledge.

Through work with His Royal Highness (HRH) the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability project, ERM developed a framework to assist organisations in defining sustainability for their products, services or organisation, and in integrating this into their decision-making processes. Based on life cycle thinking, this approach allows one to analyse the relationship between issues in a holistic manner, avoiding the risk of burden-shifting along the value chain and between sustainability impacts. A combination of literature review and stakeholder engagement, in addition to both quantitative and qualitative analysis, allows a wealth of varied information to be synthesised in a practicable format better to inform decision-makers. The primary goals of the accounting framework are to identify and to prioritise sustainability issues, to indicate areas for improvement and to identify opportunities to mitigate impacts throughout the life cycle.

Originally piloted with Sainsbury's, Tesco, Cadbury Schweppes and Duchy Originals - Sainsbury's and the National Trust have used the framework to define and improve sustainability performance for key products. This talk will focus primarily on using LCA principles to incorporate quantitative and qualitative sustainability information in a way that helps an organisation prioritise efforts and report performance.

Social and environmental LCA of an ecolabeled notebook

Juliane Franze, Andreas Ciroth

GreenDeltaTC, Germany

The demand for electronic products increases continuously, especially portable devices as laptops gain in popularity – irrespective of their impacts on environment and society. Computers are very complex products with global value chains; strong competition moves the production of electronic devices and modules to low wage countries with low social and environmental standards. In addition, the majority of e-waste is recycled illegally in Asia or Africa with crude techniques. As consequence notebooks cause along their life cycle many negative environmental as well as social effects.

The presentation will focus on a study where we analyzed social, socio-economic, and environmental impacts of an ecolabeled notebook of the Taiwanese company ASUSTeK, over its entire life cycle. The social and socio-economic impacts were modeled following the approach of social LCA (S-LCA), according the UNEP/SETAC guidelines for S-LCA of products. The newly developed methodological sheets for the S-LCA method were considered as well.

The interpretation of the social inventory shows that social hot spots occur in every life cycle stage of the notebook. Particularly mining activities and the informal recycling are connected to serious societal problems. Also the production phase is relevant in terms of social issues, while the design phase and the formal recycling are in general uncritical.

From a stakeholder perspective, workers are worst affected regarding investigated subcategories, but also the stakeholder groups “local community” and “society” are involved in negative social impacts caused by specific economic sectors within the life cycle of the laptop. Especially in least developed countries and emerging economies negative effects occur, but also in advanced economies issues regarding sustainability are relevant. The end consumers and value chain actors are not affected by social hot spots, although also here some problems could be detected.

The environmental profile of the considered notebook is strongly dominated by the production phase. Also transport and use have a noticeable contribution to the environmental burden, while packaging and disposal have a rather low contribution.

On process level, the analysis shows that main environmental impacts originate from mining activities, the production of energy carriers as well as electricity production, and processes linked to transport.

A comparison of the results of the environmental life cycle impact assessment and the ecolabel criteria allows the conclusion that the label is not able to reduce the environmental burden caused by the laptop considerably, because not all relevant life cycle stages, product characteristics, and process types are addressed.

Application of LCSA in used cooking oil (UCO) waste management

Elisabet Vinyes Guix1, Carles M. Gasol1,2, Jordi Oliver-Solà1,2, Cassia Ugaya3, Joan Rieradevall1

1Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain; 2Inèdit Innovació, Spain; 3Universidade Tecnologica Federal do Parana, Brazil

Used Cooking Oil (UCO) is a domestic waste generated as the result of cooking and frying food with vegetable oil. In Mediterranean countries is estimated that the generation of UCO is 5 kg per person per year.

Due to a lack of standardized collecting systems, there is a low recuperation of UCO waste, resulting in a great part of UCO being thrown through the sewage system causing economic, operational and environmental problems in wastewater treatment plants. Considering the energetic potential of vegetable oil a possible way to recover the waste generated from UCO is the production of biodiesel offering a way of minimizing the quantity of untreated waste and its associated problems, and at the same time also promoting a clean source of biofuel. Currently some plants of biodiesel are working under their production capacity because of the lack of vegetable oil supply.

Until now, biodiesel production applying UCO as raw material has been analyzed in deep under the environmental point of view. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been the most frequent methodology applied to study the efficiency and benefits of using UCO as a raw material to produce biodiesel.

UCO waste management depends on several key factors: economic viability of the waste management system, environmental awareness by local authorities, the interest to promote environmental measures and social benefits such as environmental education of citizens and jobs creation. According to this, other assessment methodologies like Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) are necessary to include all this key factors into the analysis. Research in SLCA is recent. There are some methodological guides but the cases studies published or research done is initial and methodology is still being developed and improved.

The present paper aims to compare the sustainability focused on social and environmental analysis, of three domestic UCO collection systems: through schools, door to door, and through urban collecting centres, in order to determine which systems should be promoted for collecting UCO in Mediterranean countries. Two of the collection systems studied are based in social labour tasks carry out for groups with a risk of social exclusion like as people with a degree of disability. The paper also aims to compare systems designed to be economically efficient towards others with a social vocation.

The sustainability of sugar supply chains – Swiss beet sugar compared to Brazilian cane sugar

Andy Spoerri, Catharina Bening, Roland W. Scholz

ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Food production in Switzerland lies in an area of conflict in terms of different and partly contradicting targets set by Swiss agricultural policy, e.g., the claim for international competitiveness and increasing market orientation opposed to domestic food supply security or optimization of sustainability performance. In the past years and expected to continue in the future, pressure from both Swiss and World politics arose, demanding for the deregulation in the Swiss agricultural sector by reducing public subsidies to domestic agricultural production or relieving tariff protection regulations for foreign agricultural products. This is especially valid for sugar production since an influential study attributed cane sugar imported from South America a significantly better greenhouse gas balance compared to the Swiss domestic beet sugar production. Against this background, this paper presents the results of a comparison of the industrial supply chains of Swiss beet sugar with cane sugar produced in Brazil’s Centre-South. In order to develop more informed policy orientations the comparison relied on a life cycle sustainability assessment taking into consideration the common three pillars of sustainable development (i.e., ecology, economy, society).

The environmental sustainability of the production of 1 kg of industrial white sugar was assessed based on the conventional attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. In order to show the result sensitivities to methodological assumptions, both economic allocation and allocation through substitution as well as different LCA methodologies (Ecological Scarcity, Eco-indicator 99) were applied. The assessment of the economic sustainability dimension relied on the life cycle costing (LCC) approach and balanced financial figures in a full cost accounting. Such a full cost accounting goes beyond the consideration of material and energy costs and revenues from product sales by additionally accounting for all other variable costs, the costs of maintenance and administration as well as capital costs. For the social dimension we followed the recommendations of the UNEP guidelines for social life cycle assessment of products. According to these guidelines we differentiated between various stakeholders (i.e., workers, consumers, local community, value chain actors, society) and quantified specific sets of criteria indicators for these stakeholders.

The paper concludes with an embedding of the final results in the political setting outlined in the beginning. Further we discuss the limitations of the pursued attributional approach from the perspective of political decision makers and outline the conceptual framing for the follow-up consequential sustainability assessment, focusing on the indirect impacts associated with marginal changes of sugar production.