Even though the evolution of sustainability metrics and methodology has advanced significantly over the past decades, social sustainability at product level is still relatively immature. Complex issues had not been addressed sufficiently. Triggered by practical shortcomings, a group of experts from large companies decided in 2013 to join forces, initiating the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics.
Since then a group of leading companies from a variety of sectors is working on the development and implementation of a methodology for Product Social Impact Assessment. This collaboration resulted in the development of several iterations of the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment, building on the participant companies’ approach and existing standards at global level.
Product Social Impact Assessment helps companies to identify the social impacts throughout the life cycle of a product or service. The method supports the identification of social hotspots and improvement opportunities, including risks in supply chains, production, use phase and end of life. The method also allows companies to identify both the negative and the positive impacts, which is the basis for strengthening the positive impacts and better managing the negative impacts. In this way, Product Social Impact Assessment can be a business driver and a source of inspiration for product innovation.
Be the leading, cross-sector initiative to give guidance on how to measure social impacts of products and services, in a way that is recognized for its high quality, credibility and business viability. The purpose is to improve the lives of workers, users and local communities by better insights that enables more balanced decision making.
Currently the Roundtable is working on Phase 7.
Since 2013 ca. 20 companies have contributed to the development of the methodology. Each year new companies connect while others decide to follow from a distance. Currently ( in Phase 7) the Roundtable has the following members:
The following companies contributed in earlier phases:
We are currently in Phase 7 of the Roundtable.
January – August 2013 The first phase of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics started with seven companies: Ahold, BASF, BMW Group, DSM, Goodyear, Philips and RB. Roundtable Phase 1 resulted in version 1.0 of the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment, which included the Product Social Impact Assessment methodology and performance indicators. Version 1.0 also included principles for impact assessment, and social topics were discussed and selected. As version 1.0 was still in an early stage of development, it required additional features to improve the usability of the methodology. Before finalizing version 1.0, the Roundtable invited experts from external organizations to provide feedback on how the Handbook could be improved.
October 2013 – July 2014 In Phase 2, five new companies (AkzoNobel, L’Oréal, Marks & Spencer, Steelcase and Corbion) joined the Roundtable, also providing feedback on Handbook version 1.0. Their feedback and that from external parties in Phase 1 was processed in the Phase 2 of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics. As a result, the Roundtable:
After this refinement, the Handbook was tested by the participants of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics and fine-tuned.
December 2014-December 2015 The Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment is available for sustainability professionals in all industries to get started on product social impact assessment today. The Roundtable itself continued to work on solutions for cross-cutting implementation issues and exchanged experiences with other practitioners and experts. Phase 3 focused on business cases and practical implementation, data and database issues, refinement of the methodology, and support for communications.
July 2016-July 2017 Phase 4 started with a Forum on July 19th, 2016 in order to interact with experts from outside the members of the Roundtable to get feedback on Handbook version 2 and way forward. The Forum has also led to the participation of some new members in the Roundtable. Currently, the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment has been downloaded more than a thousand times and is used as a basis for the chemical sector project of the WBCSD. Phase 4 has focussed on the addition of business cases, practical implementation, data and database issues, refinement of the methodology and accelerating acceptance. In addition the current stakeholder groups and social topics have been reviewed and small-holder farmers ( small scale-entrepreneurs) have been added as a fourth stakeholder group.
In September 2017 the Roundtable Phase 5 started; during this time the members have worked on an overall update of the Handbook and a separate Methodology Report. Part of the new methodology is a link to the capitals approach and a shift to qualitative assessment. Also a chapter in the Handbook describes how to integrate the social impacts with the Circular Economy. The new Handbook 2018 (version 3) was launched during the S-LCA conference in Pescara in September 2018. Almost all the members from Phase 5 have now continued in Phase 6.
Phase 6 has focussed on the development of an Implementation Guide, which presents a stepwise approach for implementation of the methodology in a company and experiences with cases were exchanged.
During this Phase ( September 2019 till October 2020) the group is working on evaluation of datatools and an investigating whether the methodology could be used for an efficient impact valuation approach. The learnings from case-studies about the social topics and performance indicators will be reflected in an update of the annex of the Handbook.
Interested industry companies who would like to participate are welcome to join the group.