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Social-LCA in product design

Social Life-Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) and Social Impact Audit Tool

The newly developed Social Audit Tool is in line with the UNEP/SETAC Guidelines, is simple, fast and gives insight into the multi-dimensional social aspects of a product’s life, viewed from a top-down, nation-wide perspective.

As an academic: I want to have a simple and visual way to introduce students to the topic of product lifecycle, its social and environmental impact, backed up by reliable data.”

As a decision-maker in product design or engineering: I need a systemic first step view of the social and environmental impact my product has.”

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“… Something, which helps to simplify and embrace complexity and to make a first level of introduction to engineering students, with clear worked exercises, is of value. The tool helps to prevent impact, allowing alternative choices, acting as a first-stage filter for decision-making” 

⏤ Didac Ferrer Balas, UPC Barcelona

 

We would like to know more about your experience with the tool. Share your opinions with us and tell us how you use it with your students, please contact us at granta-education-team@ansys.com.

 Social Impact Life Cycle Assessment FAQ

Q1: What’s the background to this tool? Why did we make it?

Products provide practical utility: shelter, transport, protection and comfort, for example. They also carry social utility: prestige, status, convenience, cultural associations and reassurance. But product development processes can also be environmentally and economically damaging and can harm human well-being through unfair practices, poor working conditions and failure to respect human rights. Social life-cycle assessment (S-LCA) aims to assess the possible social impacts of products over their life. Materials play a big part in this. Ores and feedstock are frequently sourced from resource-rich but economically poor nations. Manufacture may take place under conditions that could be made socially more acceptable. Disposal at the end of life may disadvantage communities that lack proper facilities to deal with it.

The UNEP / SETAC report [1] “Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products” lays out a widely-accepted framework for S-LCA. Our tool introduces students to the method and provides the data needed to carry out assessments. The sources of all the data are via links within the tool. The output is a list of Social hotspots, explained below.

Q2: How can we explore this tool? Is it available for trial?

At present the tool and the white paper are free and available online. In exchange we ask for your feedback. You just need to sign up here: https://grantadesign.com/education/teachingresources/ongoing-development/slca/

Q3: What data sources were used for the tool? How can I access them?

The data comes from different sources (The World Bank, UNEP…). You can access each of them by clicking on the name of the Impact Indicator in the Excel table. This takes you to the website of the source and the original data for which our ranking was constructed (see next Q of how we did this). Additional socio-economic data is available in the Sustainability edition of CES EduPack.

Q4: How were the rankings in our Excel spreadsheet calculated from the original data sources?

First, the data were converted into a ranked list so that the largest the smallest value is given the ranking 1 and the others are given an integer rank with the largest having the highest integer. Thus if the original data-list had data for a given impact factor for 145 nations, the ranking converts this to an integer list from 1 to 145.

When the source ranking is such that the lowest value () is the least good and the greatest () is the best, the rescaling to a value y with a range 1 – 100 uses the equation:

When, instead, the source ranking is such that the lowest value () is the best and the greatest () is the least good, the rescaling takes the form:

After ranking and scaling, the lists are no longer integers (if 190 nations are ranked and scaled 1 – 100, most have fractional rankings).  We refer to this list as a “Good practice” ranking, with best practice in a given impact-category exemplified by the nations with the highest value in the list, and least-good practice exemplified by those at the bottom.

When, instead, the data are binary (“Death penalty? Yes, no”) the desirable outcome is given the value 100 and the undesirable outcome the value 1.

Q5: Is this tool integrated into CES EduPack? How do you couple Eco Audit, Part Cost Estimator and the Social Impact Audit tool?

The tool is not integrated into CES EduPack. You can use it to assess the Social impact of a product, and the Eco Audit and the Part Cost Estimator can give you an insight into some Economical and Environmental aspects. However, these tools are not yet coupled.

Q6: What does “Social Hotspot” mean?

The Social Hotspot is a point of contact between stakeholders and aspects of the manufacture, distribution, use or disposal of the product that may be damaging or could be influenced in a positive way. 

Q7: Does this tool require any numerical data inputs for the assessment, besides the names of the nations involved in the process?

The only other numerical data input required from the user is the Threshold limit. This is the percentile of quality of practice below which you would like to flag a potential social impact hotspots.

Q8: What do the number of X represent in the example table of the report?

The number of Xs simply reflects the number of flagged social hotspots (indicators that fall below the threshold limit).

Q9: On the social impact table for all nations, some of the cells are blank. What does this mean?

A blank cell means that the data for that country was not available in the data source. There is a risk here that a potential Social Hotspot may be missed, so further investigation may be necessary. Clicking on the name of the Impact Indicator opens the link to this data source.

The world bank, one of our sources, explains why data for some countries is missing: https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/191133-why-are-some-data-not-available.

Q10: The average performance of a country does not necessarily represent the companies that make the product. How do we take this into account?

This is one of the limitations of the tool that is important to keep in mind when carrying out a study. Desktop-screening at the national level gives no insight into site-specific issues. This requires on-site investigation, something that is difficult, time-consuming and for which information is not easily found in the public domain.

Q11: What is the value of an S-LCA? How are they used in practice?

S-LCA is a management tool.  It draws attention to aspects of product life that might potentially harm human welfare and prompts interventions which might improve the well-being of the individuals and communities. Proponents see it as contributing to the following activities:

  • Understanding the social aspects of material choice
  • Providing an overview for due diligence in setting up supply chains or manufacturing routes
  • Informing decision-making in product development and establishing material supply chains
  • Funnelling social investment in community projects
  • Comparison of different options for products and services
  • Comparison and bench-marking of suppliers
  • As a basis for certification and labelling
  • As input to Corporate Sustainability Reporting
  • Marketing and communication

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