Social Life Cycle Assessment in a Circular Economy context
The rapid growth in resource demand in the Linear Economy combined with inequality and poverty are major sustainability challenges the world is currently facing. A Circular Economy (CE) aims to build a different model of extraction, production, consumption, and disposal of resources than today’s Linear Economy. However, most CE concepts are virtually silent on the social dimension of sustainability and the knowledge of a product’s positive and negative social impact in a CE is lacking. Methods to assess social impacts are vital to avoid problem shifting along a product's life cycle. Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) is a tool to provide information about the potential positive and negative social impacts along a product’s life cycle. In this thesis, a systematic literature review was conducted which combined SLCA and CE literature. A bibliometric and qualitative content analysis were used to map the highly fragmented field of SLCA studies and to search for links between SLCA and CE. By early 2019, 97 publications could be found from combining SLCA and CE keywords. The results depict an increasing trend in scientific publications with peaks in 2013 and 2018. The qualitative content analysis shows that SLCA approaches could help to achieve a better understanding of the social impacts of value retention options. However, CE’s value retention options from the 9R-framework are still a peripheral area in SLCA, where most attention is given to recycling issues in developing countries and waste management topics. Thus, an iceberg model was developed with suggestions for future research topics towards SLCA in a CE context. The momentum of the two fields could be used to further advance SLCA with a special emphasis on the advancement of SLCA aligned to the assessment of CEs R-strategies. Ultimately this should support decision-making processes for a sustainable CE and a more holistic sustainability assessment where social impacts are imperative for sustainable development.
Institut für Umweltsystemwissenschaften