Analysis of the link between a definition of sustainability and the life cycle methodologies

Andreas Jørgensen, Ivan Tengbjerg Herrmann, Anders Bjørn

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    It has been claimed that in order to assess the sustainability of products, a combination of the results from a life cycle assessment (LCA), social life cycle assessment (SLCA) and life cycle costing (LCC) is needed. Despite the frequent reference to this claim in the literature, very little explicit analysis of the claim has been made. The purpose of this article is to analyse this claim.An interpretation of the goals of sustainability, as outlined in the report Our Common Future (WCED 1987), which is the basis for most literature on sustainability assessment in the LCA community, is presented and detailed to a level enabling an analysis of the relation to the impact categories at midpoint level considered in life cycle (LC) methodologies.The interpretation of the definition of sustainability as outlined in Our Common Future (WCED 1987) suggests that the assessment of a product's sustainability is about addressing the extent to which product life cycles affect poverty levels among the current generation, as well as changes in the level of natural, human and produced and social capital available for the future population. It is shown that the extent to which product life cycles affect poverty to some extent is covered by impact categories included in existing SLCA approaches. It is also found that the extent to which product life cycles affect natural capital is well covered by LCA, and human capital is covered by both LCA and SLCA but in different ways. Produced capital is not to any large extent considered in any of the LC methodologies. Furthermore, because of the present level of knowledge about what creates and destroys social capital, it is difficult to assess how it relates to the LC methodologies. It is also found that the LCC is only relevant in the context of a life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) if focusing on the monetary gains or losses for the poor. Yet, this is an aspect which is already considered in several SLCA approaches.The current consensus that LCSA can be performed through combining the results from an SLCA, LCA and LCC is only partially supported in this article: The LCSA should include both an LCA and an SLCA, which should be expanded to better cover how product life cycles affect poverty and produced capital. The LCC may be included if it has as a focus to asses income gains for the poor.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalThe International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
    Issue number8
    Pages (from-to)1440-1449
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Capital theory
    • LCA
    • LCC
    • Life cycle sustainability assessment
    • <lcsa
    • Poverty
    • SLCA
    • Sustainability
    • Sustainable development

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