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Extended community of peers and robustness of social LCA

Macombe C., Loeillet D., Gillet C.. 2018. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 23 (3) : p. 492-506.

DOI: 10.1007/s11367-016-1226-2

Purpose: This paper questions the robustness of social life cycle analysis (LCA), based on four social LCA case studies. To improve robustness of social LCA, it is a necessity to fight against its weaknesses. The paper addresses three questions: (1) what are its weaknesses? (2) How can they be combated? There are solutions suggested by the Conventions theory. The Conventions theory asserts that people are capable of adopting conventions (agreements between members of a group) to define what is fair and what is not, depending on the problem. The suggested solution consists in creating a new group (which has been called ¿extended community of peers¿), which will define a new convention adapted to each new situation. The third question is, therefore, (3) do we need to resort to an extended community of peers to combat the social LCA weaknesses? Methods: To contribute to these debates, we discuss the classification of weaknesses defined by the Roy's decision-making assistance methods: (1) not dealing with the lack of knowledge, (2) attributing undue preferential meaning to certain data, (3) implementing misleading models, and (4) using meaningless technical parameters. We discuss the literature about creating new conventions thanks to peer involvement. To determine whether the creation of an extended community of peers influences the robustness, we will analyse four case studies (social LCA) which we conducted in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The first ones were conducted in Southern territories, relating to various agricultural products (banana, meat, orange). Another case study comes from a northern region, with the objective of comparing direct local supply systems and large-scale supply chains of various agricultural products. Results and discussion: About weaknesses in LCA, we highlight that environmental LCA authors have identified in their own works the same weakness points as Roy had done for other decision-making tools. We display that these weaknesses are present also in the ¿Guidelines for SLCA of Products¿ (UNEP-SETAC 2009). About fighting these weaknesses, building an extended community of peers may be a solution, but a conditional one. We cannot draw a general conclusion from such a small number of cases. However, in both case studies where a real community of peers was formed, the initial convention changed, and many weaknesses were mitigated. These changes did not occur in the other two cases, where no community of peers was mobilised. In particular, a relevant and plausible impact assessment was provided in the former two cases, while this was impossible in the latter two. The community of peers seems to function by comparison of a variety of viewpoints. Nevertheless, peer involvement is not the ultimate weapon against the weaknesses of social LCA, as we experienced it. These difficulties highlight the importance of the role of the consultants/researchers conducting the study. It is up to them to distinguish the situations which will lead to failure, from those which are manageable. It is up to them to generate the evaluative question, provide facts and negotiate. Conclusions: The creation of a community of peers does not guarantee that problems will be solved. The consultants and researchers have a particular responsibility in decrypting the power games and unfounded beliefs. Introducing the extended community of peers into the LCA landscape goes against the quest for standardisation. But specifying which convention was chosen does not impair the genericity of the method. On the contrary, the researcher's critique of their own methods is an integral part of the scientific approach. (Résumé d'auteur)...

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