A social panorama within the life cycle thinking and the circular economy: a literature review
PurposeThis literature review aims to present the current methodologies that have been developed to perform a social life cycle assessment (sLCA) and to display the main differences among them. In addition to that, to identify the nexus between sLCA and circular economy (CE) and to what extent this life cycle technique has been involved within CE studies.MethodsAn analysis of scientific literature using online databases was made. A total of 76 publications, including all indus-try sectors worldwide, were chosen spanning 11 years, from 2009 to 2020. Special attention was made to the methodology used to assess the social impacts, the impact categories analyzed, and whether there is or not a circular economy case. All the impact categories of both UNEP/SETAC and PSIA were taken into account when doing the review, and the top three of the categories are mentioned here.Results and discussionThe leadership of the UNEP/SETAC methodology is clear with 58 cases. Almost 90% of the case studies are focused on products while the remaining ones are related with services. Workers are the most considered stake-holder when conducting an sLCA research, followed by local communities and society. Regarding the impact assessment, the performance reference point (PRP) was the most common method used. When considering the CE even when some cases included the end-of-life stage in the system boundaries, the studies did not consider the actors from that stage; excluding these cases, one out of four articles has a link with CE, a promising proportion taking into account the early stage of both concepts (i.e., sLCA and CE).ConclusionsUNEP/SETAC guidelines seem to be the most promising methodology due to its reception among the scientific community. However, a more industry-oriented approach is proposed by the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics (PSIA) in a way to respond to manufacturing companies’ demand. Regardless of the type of methodology to be implemented, work-ers represent the key stakeholder when assessing social impacts. The change in usual patterns is leading to a change in the way how stakeholders interact and therefore new and more impacts may arise, and that is the reason why it is important to include the CE into the sLCA. A series of challenges such as the feasibility of aggregating all the life cycle techniques to one (life cycle sustainability assessment), data availability, and quality are still present for the moment.
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Social impact assessment
Springer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment