Assessing potential social impacts of an emerging technology: opportunities and criticalities

Main Presenter: Giuseppe Cecere 

Co-Authors: Lucia Rigamonti Hazem Eltohamy

The topic of social sustainability of products or services is increasingly discussed in research, companies and among policy makers. The new UNEP SETAC 2020 guidelines, concerning the development of a Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA), respond to the need of standardising the analysis to ensure objectivity and accuracy of the methodology. However, few practical applications focus on assessing the social sustainability of technologies under development. The possibility to assess the impacts on all three pillars of sustainability during the research and development phases of new products and processes would allow greater control of potential impacts. Currently a new froth flotation technology is being developed under FineFuture project, funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 821265). If implemented, this technology can valorise fine mineral particles instead of discarding them as residues, nevertheless this does not necessarily
ensure the sustainability of the technology. As part of the project, a S-LCA is being performed, to evaluate social performances of specific applications of the new technology. The study started with an internal survey, to select subcategories (social themes of interest) to be analysed. Different case studies have been selected and deepened, based on considerations about the future technical feasibility of the implementation. Subsequently, after defining system boundaries and functional unit, the first questionnaires for data collection were administered to the mining companies involved in the project. Unfortunately, problems arose regarding data confidentiality and a revision of the goal and scope of the analysis was performed. In particular, it was decided to proceed with a Hot Spot analysis of the different industrial sectors, selected country by country (based on the different companies), to ensure the identification of the social issues most influenced by the production chain. The study relies on the Product Social Impact Life Cycle Assessment (PSILCA) database developed by GreenDelta for all the secondary data. The aim is to provide a valid indication of the potential social impacts related to the different company sectors, to ensure mitigation of social risks both in the current state and in future scenarios, where the FineFuture technology will be implemented.

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