Digital conference on Social life cycle assessment – put the social aspects of product chains on the table
In June, the 7th international conference on Social Life Cycle Assessment was successfully held and organized by Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in collaboration with the Swedish Life Cycle Center. Due to the Covid -19 pandemic, the conference was arranged online.
The conference gathered around 130 delegates from universities, institutes and companies to take part of latest research and development in the social life cycle assessment field from different perspectives. Most of the delegates came from Sweden, but Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain were well represented, which also mirror where most research and activity in this field are ongoing.
The outline for the conference was video presentations that could be followed on Youtube and twitter poster presentations, mixed with daily keynotes, panel discussions and live sessions for discussions and interactions.
The study “Insights on social life-cycle-assessment in practice in Sweden“, by Mathias Lindkvist, Chalmers University of Technology, was presented at the conference. He has studied the experiences from Swedish organizations using S-LCA with an aim provide better understanding of opportunities for and potential limitation on S-LCA for decision making and communication.
We have asked Professor Henrikke Baumann, conference chair, to give the reader an insight in the conference by answering the following questions.
Why is this conference series of importance and what was the main aim for the 7th international conference on Social Life Cycle Assessment?
– Social issues are not new to society, nor to the social sciences, but social consideration within a life cycle perspective is no straightforward matter. Therefore, this conference series brings together researchers who want to learn and discuss how to conduct Social LCA and what can be learnt from such studies. While there are many life cycle conferences, this is the one dedicated to social aspects of product chains. With the theme ‘Impacts – Interests – Interactions’, we wanted to acknowledge that social life cycle studies have diverse methods, are conducted in different contexts and with different effects.
Could you give us an insight in highlighted topics, presentations or discussions which were brought up at the conference?
– So far, others have described SLCA as a fragmented field, but I’d rather see it as a pluralistic field, where we are exploring the possibilities of social life cycle studies from different perspectives. Many focus on how to do the social impact assessment with a life cycle perspective, others on what we can learn from a social study of a product life cycle, others again are interested in participatory processes among life cycle actors. All these variants have their uses, but we need to learn how they can serve CSR, policy-making or a transition to a circular economy.
New for this conference were a few presentations about the practice of SLCA and social life cycle studies, not just methodological studies and case studies. Also, for the first time, the conference awarded a few outstanding contributions (see list below). Together, these show some of the breadth and diversity of the research field.
On the last day of the conference, a presentation about the revised guidelines for Social LCA was given by Catherine Benoit-Norris and colleagues in the Social LCAlliance. The first guidelines were published in 2009, and much new experience has been gathered since then. An update is therefore much needed, and the final version is being now tested in a handful of pilot cases.
While many conferences were canceled during spring 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic, you managed to do this conference online – with a successful result. What important lessons from this “digital conference journey” did you learn, and would like to pass on to others?
– I think participants were positively surprised by what can be achieved with an online event. When transferring an international conference to an online format, we considered that people would be in different time zones and we also wanted to avoid ‘zoom fatigue’. This led to a decision where we asked those with oral presentations to deliver these as pre-recorded videos. This was a bit risky, since we didn’t know if people would manage video-making or not, but it worked out well. The advantage of video presentations is that they give people the freedom to watch them in their own time across time zones. And to create the social conference buzz for the participants, the keynote sessions were live and with ample time before the keynotes for online mingling — with social check-ins, polls and breakout rooms. Also, all participants could take part in voting on presentations for the conference best contribution awards. Some even said they felt greater inclusiveness since the online format reduces the distance between junior and senior researcher and facilitated deeper discussion.
It is remarkable how much easier it was to organize an online version of a conference compared to its physical equivalent. Without the practicalities and logistics of social events, the cost becomes much lower, reducing the need for financial support and allowing me as an academic organizer to focus on the academic content of the conference. What we learned was that online conferencing is not just necessary replacement for a physical conference in pandemic times, they could function as an entirely different model of academic exchange. For example, newcomers to a field can sign up for an online event but wouldn’t have made the trip had it been a physical event. I’ve had feedback from participants who say that our conference set a new standard for academic conferences in the future. Even so, I think we still need to figure out when online events are best and which events deserve travelling (and the environmental impact that comes with that).
The conference in numbers
13 interactive poster presentations
3 keynote speech
130 delegates (from 22 countries)
Awards/Links to presentations
Best poster: The use of Pugh Matrix for the identification of social issues within Social Organisational Life Cycle Assessment: a methodological outline, by Manuela D’Eusanio, Matthias Finkbeiner and Luigia Petti
Mathias Lindkvist, Chalmers University of Technology, was presented at the conference. He has studied the experiences from Swedish organizations using S-LCA with an aim provide better understanding of opportunities for and potential limitation on S-LCA.
Social LCAlliance: https://www.social-lca.org