New publication on Hotspots Analysis with methodology and guidance now available for download

Hotspots analysis is being used around the world to address significant sustainability challenges by helping to provide focus in an era of information overload. Case studies are provided in this document.

The information-age has led to a proliferation of content, ranging from the assimilation and analytical challenges associated with ‘big data’ through to ever-increasing publication lists of research and innovation findings. The major challenge for businesses, policy-makers, academic researchers and consumers is deciding where and how to act to have the maximum impact. For any action a balance must be struck between speed of response and pragmatism and the need to be informed by reliable and trustworthy science-based evidence.

A growing number of different analytical disciplines are using a prioritisation method called ‘hotspotting’ or ‘hotspots analysis’. It is being used to filter and distil often-large volumes of information to identify and prioritise hotspots for further investigation or action by industry, governments and other stakeholders. This may include piloting or implementing actions on the basis of the findings from the hotspots analysis.

When applied to Life Cycle Assessment, the benefits of hotspots analysis include ensuring:

  • Focus on priority issues (e.g., waste, water, materials of concern)
  • Focus on the right life cycle stage (e.g., material acquisition, manufacturing, use, end of life)
  • Focus on the right actors (e.g., producers, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, customers, government officials) to evaluate, influence and implement solutions
  • Implications of trade-offs are understood
  • Resources (e.g., time, money) can be effectively allocated to actions.

However, there is not currently a common global approach to hotspots analysis; nor has there been any effort to bring together or share best practice amongst those organisations or initiatives currently developing and using these methods. Nor is there any accepted guidance on how to translate and apply the results of hotspots analysis into meaningful sustainability information and insight for use by industry, governments and other stakeholders.

Recognising that this situation may result in a range of negative impacts, including a lack of consistency in methodological approach, difficulties in comparing the results of hotspots studies and the potential for conflicting sustainability information in the marketplace; the Life Cycle Initiative established a new Flagship Project to address these and other issues in 2013.

About the Hotspots Analysis methodological framework

The methodological framework provides information that is of use to those wishing to commission or carry out a hotspots analysis in a life cycle context. However, as a framework, rather than a standard, it provides a degree of flexibility to enable hotspots analysis to be used in differing circumstances. The specific directions given for different situations (e.g., assessment of hotspots for products, sectors) underscore that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ application of hotspots analysis. The framework aims to be equally applicable to businesses and other organisations (e.g., NGOs and academic institutions), governments as well as individual researchers.

It aims to provide a consistent approach to hotspots analysis. As an action-oriented methodology, the key outcome is to identify where the greatest opportunity for improvement against an impact occurs, rather than communicating a precisely quantified current impact. Other organisations (e.g., trade associations) may wish to offer more specific guidance on implementing hotspots analysis for their own sectors or circumstances based upon this framework.

This Methodological Framework aims to support those wishing to commission, conduct or use hotspots analysis studies, including stakeholders of the 10YFP in their efforts to prioritize their actions to accelerate a shift towards Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP); the audience for the use of this framework includes practitioners and technical experts, stakeholders, developers and participants of hotspots analysis methodology development.

Communication of sustainability information protocol also available

A protocol for the appropriate use and communication of sustainability information derived from hotspots analysis is available in a companion publication: “Communicating hotspots: The effective use of sustainability information to drive action and improve performance” available on the Life Cycle Initiative website.