Sustainability is more than just the environment, but can we quantify that?

Sustainability is more than just the environment, but can we quantify that?

Cutting edge research on life cycle sustainability assessment

It is widely acknowledged that sustainability involves more than just the health and viability of our biophysical environment. Figuring out how to capture the multiple dimensions of sustainability in quantitative models, however, is a significant challenge.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a well-established and widely-used tool for the systematic assessment of environmental impacts of products, services, and technologies. In an effort to include economic and social impacts, LCA researchers have worked to extend the tool — to develop life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA).

Reprintedwith permission from Guinée, J. B., R. Heijungs, G. Huppes, A. Zamagni, P. Masoni, R. Buonamici, T. Ekvall, and T. Rydberg. 2011. Life Cycle Assessment: Past, Present, and Future. Environmental Science & Technology 45(1): 90-96. Copyright (2011) American Chemical Society

Figure reprinted with permission from Guinée, J. B., R. Heijungs, G. Huppes, A. Zamagni, P. Masoni, R. Buonamici, T. Ekvall, and T. Rydberg. 2011. Life Cycle Assessment: Past, Present, and Future. Environmental Science & Technology 45(1): 90-96. Copyright (2011) American Chemical Society

They have not only been broadening the scope of indicators to capture more than just environmental concerns, but also expanding the object of analysis from products to industrial sectors and whole economies. Some have greater ambitions and see LCSA as a transdisciplinary framework for the integration of models rather than a single model. In either respect, the expansion of environmental LCA toward LCSA is a progression of the overarching effort of to quantify the relative sustainability of a system.

In a special issue, Charting the Future of Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment, Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology presents cutting edge research on LCSA including articles that:

  • Address conceptual challenges of broadening of impacts while maintaining a cohesive and comprehensive approach;
  • Communicate LCSA results to decision makers applying weighting schemes and dealing with value choices and subjectivity;
  • Incorporate technological, economic, and political mechanisms at various levels of analysis through linking or integration of LCA with other types of models;
  • Developing appropriate, preferably quantitative and practical, approaches for social LCA .

Articles in the special issue are freely downloadable for a limited time.

The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a peer-reviewed, international bimonthly journal headquartered at the Center for Industrial Ecology in the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.