In this introduction to the concept of life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA), we acknowledge the foundations laid by previous works and initiatives. One such initiative has been the ISO 14040 series (Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework), which in addition to the ISO 26000: Social Responsibility Guidance Standard, and the contribution of a number of international initiatives (Appendix A) have been essential for the development of this publication.
Different life cycle assessment techniques allow individuals and enterprises to assess the impact of their purchasing decisions and production methods along different aspects of this value chain. An (Environmental) life cycle assessment (LCA) looks at potential impacts to the environment as a result of the extraction of resources, transportation, production, use, recycling and discarding of products; life cycle costing (LCC) is used to assess the cost implications of this life cycle; and social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) examines the social consequences.
However, in order to get the ‘whole picture’, it is vital to extend current life cycle thinking to encompass all three pillars of sustainability: (i) environmental, (ii) economic and (iii) social. This means carrying out an assessment based on environmental, economic and social issues – by conducting an overarching life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA). This publication shows how all three techniques – which all share similar methodological frameworks and aims – can be combined to make the move towards an overarching LCSA possible.
The publication includes eight case studies to illustrate how current and emerging life cycle assessment techniques are being implemented worldwide from Asia through Europe and Latin America.