Social life cycle assessment: in pursuit of a framework for assessing wood-based products from bioeconomy regions in Germany

Anke Siebert*, Alberto Bezama, Sinéad O’Keeffe, Daniela Thrän

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose: With many policies in Germany steering towards a bioeconomy, there is a need for analytical tools that assess not only the environmental and economic implications but also the social implications of a transition to a bioeconomy. Wood is expected to become a major biomass resource in bioeconomy regions. Therefore, this paper develops a social life cycle assessment (sLCA) framework that can be applied specifically to a wood-based production system in one of Germany’s bioeconomy regions. Methods: This paper reviews and analyses existing sLCA approaches, in terms of how applicable they are for assessing a wood-based production system in a German bioeconomy regional context. The analysis is structured according to the standard phases of environmental life cycle assessment (LCA). However, we use the term social effects rather than social impacts, to acknowledge the unknown cause–effect relationship between an organisation’s activities and its social impacts. We also consider the establishment of regional system boundaries, as well as the relationship between the social effects and the product being assessed. Additionally, an approach for the development and selection of social indicators and indices is outlined. Furthermore, we discuss data requirements and present an approach for a social life cycle impact assessment method. Results and discussion: A new conceptual framework for a context-specific sLCA to assess wood-based products manufactured in a bioeconomy region was developed. It enables sLCA practitioners to identify “social hotspots” and “social opportunities” from a regional perspective. The location and characteristics of these social hotspots and opportunities can be analysed, in particular, for major production activities in a bioeconomy region in Germany. Therefore, according to this framework, the development of social indices and indicators, the collection of data and the approach used for characterising social effects need to relate to the geographical context of the product being assessed. The proposed framework can, thus, help to identify, monitor and evaluate the social sustainability of wood-based bioeconomy chains in a regional context. Conclusions: This framework requires a high level of detail in the social inventory and impact assessment phase, in order to assess the regional foreground activities in a German wood-based bioeconomy region. It enables sLCA studies to identify which social hotspots and social opportunities occur and where they are located in the wood-based production system of a regional bioeconomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-662
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume23
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Bioeconomy region
  • Framework
  • sLCA site-specific
  • Social life cycle assessment
  • Wood-based products

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