A transdisciplinary review of the role of economics in life cycle sustainability assessment

Hall, Murray R. (2015) A transdisciplinary review of the role of economics in life cycle sustainability assessment. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 20 12: 1625-1639. doi:10.1007/s11367-015-0970-z

Author Hall, Murray R.
Title A transdisciplinary review of the role of economics in life cycle sustainability assessment
Journal name International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1614-7502
Publication date 2015-10-15
Year available 2015
Sub-type Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
DOI 10.1007/s11367-015-0970-z
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 20
Issue 12
Start page 1625
End page 1639
Total pages 15
Place of publication Heidelberg, Germany
Publisher Springer
Collection year 2016
Language eng
Formatted abstract
This paper reviews the use of economic values in life cycle assessment (LCA) and the justification for environmental life cycle costing (ELCC) as the ‘economic pillar’ of life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA).

A transdisciplinary review of economic values in LCA was undertaken and structured with a series of research questions. The review considered the philosophy of science and focussed on the concept of value as a point of synthesis among the disciplines of LCA, economics and ethics. An example from the ELCC Code of Practice was reviewed to highlight the challenges and alternative approaches explored.

Results and discussion
‘Value choices’ and the role of decision makers have been a long-standing and largely unresolved discussion in LCA. Over the past two decades, LCA has been dominated by a utilitarian concept of ethics and valuation based on willingness to pay. This has a number of limitations which are further exacerbated in ELCC and its accounting definition of cost. ELCC struggles to address social costs, and the focus on the decision maker may define values that are not compatible with sustainability. John Rawls’ ‘justice as fairness’ and Amartya Sen’s capability approach were considered to reappraise the use of UN Conventions considered in early LCA literature on values. It was argued that there is an ethical basis to prioritise minimum standards in LCSA to address primary social goods as well as uncertainty in evaluations.

This paper questioned the reliance of LCA on utilitarianism and valuation using willingness to pay and, in particular, the claim of ELCC as the economic pillar of LCSA. Concepts of fairness and capability may overcome some of these limitations and provide a basis for integration of social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability. Although the ethical justification of prescriptive values may only reach agreement on minimum conditions for social and economic cooperation, it was argued that this may provide a reasonable starting point given the global sustainability challenges over the coming decades. A two-stage approach for the implementation of economic values in LCSA was suggested for further debate and discussion.
Keyword Capability approach
Ecological economics
Environmental life cycle costing
Life cycle assessment
Life cycle sustainability assessment
Planetary boundaries
Rawlsian social contract
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
Collections: School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management Publications
Official 2016 Collection
Version Filter Type
Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 2 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 2 times in Scopus Article | Citations
Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Tue, 03 Nov 2015, 00:32:02 EST by System User on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service