A relatively broad consensus has formed that the purpose of developing and using the social life cycle assessment (SLCA) is to improve the social conditions for the stakeholders affected by the assessed product's life cycle. To create this effect, the SLCA, among other things, needs to provide valid assessments of the consequence of the decision that it is to support. The consequence of a decision to implement a life cycle of a product can be seen as the difference between the decision being implemented and 'non-implemented' product life cycle. This difference can to some extent be found using the consequential environmental life cycle assessment (ELCA) methodology to identify the processes that change as a consequence of the decision. However, if social impacts are understood as certain changes in the lives of the stakeholders, then social impacts are not only related to product life cycles, meaning that by only assessing impacts related to the processes that change as a consequence of a decision, not all changes in the life situations of the stakeholders will be captured by an assessment following the consequential ELCA methodology. This article seeks to identify these impacts relating to the non-implemented product life cycle and establish indicators for their assessment. A conceptual overview of the non-implemented life cycle situation is established, and the impacts which may be expected from this situation are identified, based on theories and empirical findings from relevant fields of research. Where possible, indicators are proposed for the measurement of the identified impacts. In relation to the workers in the life cycle, the non-implemented life cycle situation may lead to increased levels of unemployment. Unemployment has important social impacts on the workers; however, depending on the context, these impacts may vary significantly. The context can to some extent be identified and based on this, indicators are proposed to assess the impacts of unemployment. In relation to the product user, it was not possible to identify impacts of the non-implemented life cycle on a generic basis. The assessment of the non-implemented life cycle situation increases the validity of the SLCA but at the same time adds a considerable extra task when performing an SLCA. It is therefore discussed to what extent its assessment could be avoided. It is argued that this depends on whether the assessment will still meet the minimum criterion for validity of the assessment, that the assessment should be better than random in indicating the decision alternative with the most favourable social impacts. Based on this, it is concluded that the assessment of the non-implemented life cycle cannot be avoided since an assessment not taking into account the impacts of the non-implemented life cycle will not fulfil this minimum criterion. To mitigate the task of assessing the impacts of the non-implemented life cycle, new research areas are suggested, relating to simpler ways of performing the assessment as well as to investigations of whether the effect of SLCA can be created through other and potentially simpler assessments than providing an assessment of the consequences of a decision as addressed here.
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2010, Vol 15, Issue 4, p. 376-384