The 2018 Handbook for Product Social Metrics is available now!

In September 2018, the current group of Roundtable members presented the fourth iteration of the Handbook during the Social LCA conference in Pescara, Italy. This conference brought together many researchers, businesspeople and policymakers, including high-level representatives of the EU: DG-GROW.

Each new iteration of the Handbook is based on real experiences from companies applying the methodology. Background of the methodology is described in the Methodology Report. The new Handbook has many updates that will make it easier and more effective for companies to do a social impact assessment.

Useful new developments in Product Social Metrics:

  • Extended practical guidance, from setting goals and scope all the way to the final assessment. Including a handy Quick-Reference guide.
  • Increased consistency of social topics (impact categories), inspired by collaboration with the Social and Human Capital Protocol.
  • A much more realistic procedure for data gathering. Questionnaires are not that helpful for social topics. Who would give you a clear answer if you ask whether they employ children in the workforce?
  • An increased emphasis on screening for hotspots, to help put effort where it matters most. The BASF case study was especially instructive.
  • A new stakeholder category, small-scale entrepreneurs, in addition to the existing categories of workers, users and local communities. This new category covers small farmers and what is often referred to as the ‘informal sector’ of people without a job.
  • A move away from just measuring compliance with local laws to understanding what a company is doing to avoid causing a social impact – a company that invests in local schools is doing more to prevent child labour than a company that just does not employ children.

Social LCA moving away from the quantitative approach

Perhaps somewhat surprising in the LCA community, the new Handbook no longer includes a quantitative approach. Instead, all impacts are measured on a 5-point scale. The reason is that the Roundtable could not decide how to even start interpreting quantitative data. What is the value of knowing that a mine has 30 slaves among its workers? Social LCA really is different from environmental LCA. In environmental LCA, reducing CO2 emission by 10% can be a satisfying outcome. Conversely, nobody is happy if we reduce the number of slaves from 30 to 27 – the issue is not the number of slaves, it’s the existence of slavery. A company wants to know what a supplier is doing to eradicate the use of slavery and how successful it has been in achieving this, not whether it has or has not reduced the number of slaves.