Towards a life cycle sustainability assessment: making informed choices on products

United Nations Environment Programme (2011)

Every day, unsustainable patterns of consumption, unsustainable production methods and population growth challenge the resilience of the planet to support human activities. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high leaving billions with unmet basic human needs and a disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change. To counteract this trend, UNEP and SETAC have worked together to develop the current work Towards a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment. This has been achieved through the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative.</p><p>A key objective of the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative is to help extend life cycle assessment (LCA) methods and practices. One major achievement has been the development of methods and techniques that can measure sustainability and allow LCA to support decision-making toward more sustainable product and process systems. In this way, life cycle techniques can be used to carry out life cycle sustainability assessments. This guidance document provides a starting point for learning about the methodologies and techniques suitable for life-cycle-based ways of measuring sustainability.</p><p>Environmental life cycle assessment, life cycle costing and social life cycle assessment are techniques with similar aims and methodological frameworks addressing individually the three sustainability pillars. Towards a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment shows how it is possible to combine them into an integrated assessment and outlines how they can be used to contribute to an overarching life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA).</p><p>This publication is a natural step in UNEPs work, which has in the past decade focused on developing the 10-Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Development and which is now also focusing on economic sustainability through the UNEP Green Economy Initiative. This publication will increase the awareness of stakeholders and decision-makers in governments, agencies for international cooperation, business and consumers associations who are called on to take integrated and holistic decisions on products.

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