Assessing the contribution of products to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: a methodological proposal

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Purpose: The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets pose the most important framework for sustainable development worldwide. However, the contributions of products and companies to the SDGs using social and environmental life cycle assessment (S-LCA; E-LCA) have not been thoroughly addressed in the scientific literature. The purpose of this research is therefore to identify product-related targets, derive suitable indicators and develop a social life cycle impact assessment (S-LCIA) method. Methods: To systematically select product-related targets, two questions are developed. The questions ask whether a product (a) has a direct impact on the achievement of the target or (b) if the companies along the life cycle that produce or offer the product have a direct influence on the achievement of the respective target. Suitable indicators are derived and adapted from generally accepted frameworks such as the Global Indicator Framework (GIF-SDG). To develop an S-LCIA method, the targets are translated into conditions beneficial or damaging to the achievement of the target to estimate the socio-economic impact of the product using a scale from +1 to −1. In cases where the targets remain vague, a systematic five-step approach to derive a quantifiable target involving five steps is applied. Results and discussion: The main contribution of this paper is to propose a coherent method to measure the contribution of products to the targets. All 17 SDGs and 61 of the 169 targets (36%) were evaluated as product-related. For 57% of the product-related targets, indicators from the GIF-SDGs could at least partly be used after slight adaptations, while for the remaining 43% of the product-related targets, indicators were taken from other frameworks or sources or had to be added. In total, 45 indicators have been identified to be suitable for assessing the potential contribution of products to the 61 targets. To illustrate the systematic five-step approach to quantitatively assess the contribution of products to the targets, five types of contribution functions are presented in detail. Conclusions: The presented method allows companies to analyse their impact and that of their products on the targets both within their own company and in the supply chain. As especially the latter is increasingly demanded by supply chain laws in different countries such as France, the Netherlands or the UK, the method fills an important research gap. However, future research to examine the proposed approach, the derived indicators and the impact assessment method is strongly encouraged.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)959-977
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 07.2022

Bibliographical note

Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. The authors are grateful for the funding of this work to the German Federal Ministry on Education and Research (BMBF) within the German Socio-ecological Research Programme under the funding contracts 01UT1901A and 01UT1422D.

Publisher Copyright: © 2022, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Sustainability sciences, Management & Economics - 2030 agenda of the United Nations, Life cycle sustainability management, Social impact assessment, Social performance measurement, Sustainability accounting, supply chain management, corporate sustainability, corporate social responsibility