LCA and LCSA: how can they contribute to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
About three years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which exist of 17 goals and 169 targets. Last year, a set of 232 indicators was agreed upon. The SDGs, targets and indicators are a milestone in human history, provide an ambitious and comprehensive agenda for the future and, if implemented, might result in a fundamentally more sustainable world. Looking with a life cycle assessment (LCA eye to the long list of indicators) the question raises: where and how can LCA, LCSA or LCT contribute to the SDGs? For that we first need to define what LCA and LCSA are and what they are about.
Life cycle assessment of product systems, studying environmental impacts of e.g. consumer products, has a history that dates back to the 1960s and 1970s. It was recognized at that point that for many products, a large share of the environmental impacts is not just in the use of the product, but might be originating from its production, transportation or disposal. It was also acknowledged that improving a product system may have trade offs in several areas, by either shifting problems to other processes, phases of the product’s life cycle, to other countries, substances, impacts, or just to the future. Gradually, the importance of addressing the whole life cycle of a product and all related environmental impacts became an issue in the 1980s and 1990s. Out of this emerged the idea of life cycle assessment (LCA) and since then LCA has developed fast. Today, it has become part of several policy regulations world-wide.
About ten years ago, LCA was broadened and deepened to a more comprehensive Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA). Definitions of LCSA are not yet carved in a stone, but the most widely adopted definition is: LCSA = LCA + LCC (Life Cycle Costing) + SLCA (Social LCA). This definition is basically about broadening the impact considered from environmental impact to also include economic and social impacts adopting the full sustainability definition. Another definition of LCSA added two other dimensions to this broadening of impacts dimension: broadening the level of analysis (from product analyses to sector- and economy-wide analyses), and deepening the analysis to include other than just technological relations.
LCA and LCSA can particularly be of help for the SDGs in mapping and checking of trade-offs between goals, targets or indicators, and in bringing evidence-based analyses to reaching the goals. As most SDG indicators are defined on a macro level (global- or country-level), particularly LCSA may be suitable for this. In this presentation, the history and method(s) of LCA and LCSA will be introduced.
Next, it will be explored how LCA and LCSA can support SDGs, illustrated by selected examples. Finally, some LCA/LCSA limitations and challenges for Indonesia (and South-East Asia in general) will be discussed.
Guinée, Jeroen et al. (2010) “Life cycle assessment: past, present, and future” Environ. Sci. Technol. 45(1): 90-96. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es101316v
Guinée, Jeroen (2016) “Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment: what is it and what are its challenges?” In: Roland Clift & Angela Druckman (Eds), Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology, pp. 45-68. Springer Open. ISBN 978-3-319-20571-7. https://www.springer.com/la/book/9783319205700
Guinée, Jeroen et al. (2018) “Digesting the alphabet soup of LCA” International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1478-0
Dr. ir. Jeroen Guinée (M) has worked at the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University since 1987, focusing on the research areas of life cycle assessment (LCA) and substance flow analysis (SFA). He has completed his PhD on LCA in 1995. From 1994-1998 he was co-ordinator of an inter-university project on metals. After that he was a senior-researcher in, and/or project leader or reviewer of many national and over 10 EU framework projects. In 2002 he edited one of the most respected publications in the field of Life Cycle Assessment: “ Handbook on Life Cycle Assessment. Operational Guide to the ISO Standards”. His research has resulted in more than 50 publications in international scientific journals and books. He teaches an advanced LCA course for Industrial Ecology Master students and supervises several PhD students. View profile