Social organizational LCA (SOLCA)—a new approach for implementing social LCA

Julia Martínez-Blanco, Annekatrin Lehmann, Ya Ju Chang, Matthias Finkbeiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Purpose: Current product social life cycle assessment (SLCA) addresses social aspects from a life cycle perspective, but it is not yet broadly implemented in practice. We propose a new organizational perspective to boost SLCA—the social organizational LCA (SOLCA). The paper answers four guiding questions: Why do we need SOLCA? How can we apply it? How can its implementation benefit from existing experience? Which are the foreseen limitations? Methods: First, challenges of SLCA which may be overcome by an organizational perspective are identified, and potential solutions are described. An analysis of the indicators proposed by SLCA is conducted. Second, first ideas for a conceptual framework for SOLCA are developed. The two underlying methodologies: the guidelines for SLCA of products and the guidance on organizational LCA (OLCA)—which adapts product LCA to the organizational perspective—were reviewed, compared and adapted to a social organizational perspective. Third, different implementation pathways were identified, showing how SOLCA could be applied in practice by considering different levels of organizations’ experiences with social and environmental assessments. Results and discussion: Existing SLCA case studies do not really evaluate the social performance of products. From the 189 indicators proposed in SLCA, only eight refer to the product level, while 127 and 69 refer to the organizational and country level, respectively—including overlaps and according to the methodological sheets. This fact clearly favors an organizational approach to social LCA. SOLCA may streamline allocation, data collection, and application in practice. The conceptual framework for SOLCA is focused on scope and inventory, which were found to differ most from SLCA and OLCA; all relevant steps like definition of unit of analysis or multi-functionality are addressed. Three SOLCA implementation pathways are proposed. Existing experience of organizations in social organizational approaches —like Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or product SLCA— and environmental approaches —like environmental management systems (EMS) or OLCA— can be used as starting points as they can provide useful information on the organization´s structure, value chain, etc. Conclusions: SOLCA helps to overcome some major challenges of SLCA and thus is a promising approach for putting it into practice. The frameworks of SLCA and OLCA can be integrated into SOLCA, and existing experience from organizations can be used for implementing it. However, new challenges arise. This includes potential difficulties for primary data collection in complex organizations with many different sites or the difficulty to distribute or aggregate social aspects within the organization. Further development and testing of SOLCA is recommended.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1586-1599
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • CSR
  • OLCA
  • Organizational level
  • Product level
  • SLCA
  • Social assessment
  • Unit of analysis


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