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1/9/2013 at 8:34:32 PM GMT
Posts: 92
ideas on content for topical paper

LCSA Paper Authors,

I suppose we never really worked through a process for creating these papers in Long Beach, so I am going to list some of my thoughts in the form of questions that I think are relevant and see who responds. We can build an outline based on this conversation thread.  I will try to build that outline (or somebody else can volunteer), but I think we need to get our ideas in line by mid-month or thereabouts.

A little background on the genesis of these thoughts and what has been the history of trying to apply life cycle approaches to assessing sustainability might be in order.  

  • The roots of LCA go back more than 40 years but it is only in the past 7 or 8 that anyone has suggested that LCA might evolve from its environmental foundations to support sustainability assessment.  I think the first mention of such an extension was in an editorial by Walter Kloppfer in the International LCA Journal about 2004 or so.  He suggested the formulation LCA + LCC + SLCA = LCSA, where LCA refers to traditional environmental LCA, LCC is life cycle costing, SLCA is social LCA, and LCSA is life cycle sustainability assessment.  Although much has happened since this publication almost every one refers to this as the benchmark idea.  Should we attepmt to do a solid literature review on the development of LCSA as part of our paper?
  • LCA and LCSA are analytical or decision support methods for product and service systems by definition.  Although conventional, attributional LCA has been complemented by consequential LCA, which I believe is more applicable to sustainability type decisions, the primary issue is whether the framework (goal and scope, system boundary, functional unit, etc.) is appropriate for sustainability assessment and to what extent.
  • As we have been discussing and debating now for several years, sustainability is a "wicked problem" not amenable to deterministic or even probabilistic analysis.  Can LCSA (even consequential LCSA  if we can discover or create such a thing) still provide insights on alternative decision choices given its other characteristics?
  • The decision analytic component (phase) of LCA has been the Interpretation part, mostly done after data collections and inventory/impact assessment.  Based on the UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative LCSA guidance publication from 2011, this phase is either undeveloped or poorly developed for LCSA depending on whom you ask.  Could the development of a stronger decision support component really help strengthen the case for LCSA as a leading contender in the Science of Sustainability area?


Bruce Vigon, SETAC Science Manager

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Last edited Wednesday, January 9, 2013
1/18/2013 at 6:06:31 AM GMT
Posts: 2

In addition to Bruce's ideas I come up with the following suggestions:

- would it be valuable to write an paper on the upscaling of LCA results? e.g. do's/don'ts when extrapolating from function unit to macro-level.

- could we make a evaluation on the use and effect of LCA results: survey amongst people that had to make a decision and had LCA results as supporting info? How often the LCA really influenced the decision/policy, and in which direction? This could be based on interviews (skype) with some decisionmakers around the globe. Small, just te get some ideas. Or a bigger survey.  

- I like the wicked problem discussion. I think the contribution of LCA's to 'solving' wicked problem soley depends on how you present the results. We could think on how to present our LCA results in order to serve dealing with wicked problems and compare this with how we would present LCA results on tame problems.

Let the brainstorm continue ;-)


3/18/2013 at 7:10:22 PM GMT
Posts: 19
LCA and Jevons paradox
Another relevant idea comes from the literature on Jevons Paradox.  There is the abbreviated reference on the AGS site under References/Reading materials.  But there is also "The Myth of Resource Efficiency:  The Jevons Paradox" by Polimeni, J.M. et al.  2008, Earthscan.  If you have this reference or get it, go to page 21-22 under a section titled "what is output?"  There is a discussion of utility and externalities that seem relevant to LCA.  There are other (obviously) relevant ideas throughout this reference but it seems that the concept of who decides (and how you decide) what goes in the numerator is an important idea.  In Jevons original work (1800s), he states that utility is not an inherent value -- meaning that the utility of something changes depending on how much you currently have of it as well as context (e.g., how useful it is now compared to some other time).  In this context, it would be interesting to discuss whether and how LCA might change over time -- should it or shouldn't it?  Are the elements that go into LCA fixed (like a standard set of indicators or criteria)?  If not, when do they change?  Who decides? If so, why and who decides?  Just some ideas to ponder.  Thanks for your efforts! 

Cynthia Stahl

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