JIE-CoverNearly a decade ago, the concept of life cycle sustainability analysis (LCSA) emerged and it has been widely discussed and debated ever since. Based on those experiences, this is a good time to assess the progress of LCSA and grapple with its continued development. What exactly does the contemporary community consider LCSA to be, and what are the major challenges to LCSA?

Some view LCSA as a broadening of environmental LCA (E-LCA) to also include economic (through life cycle costing; LCC) and social (through social LCA; S-LCA) impacts. Others view it as a trans-disciplinary framework for the integration of models rather than a model in itself. In this latter view, LCSA then not only looks at enlarging the scope of indicators, but also at the expansion of the object of analysis from products to sectors to whole economies. This implies deepening of modeling to both better characterize and include more mechanisms. LCSA thus works with a plethora of disciplinary models and guides selection of the most appropriate to address specific sustainability questions. Structuring, selecting, and making those disciplinary models available for application to different types of life cycle sustainability questions is a central challenge. Within this broader view, traditional E-LCA still has its value fulfilling one specific requirement of this broader life cycle sustainability framework.

The expansion of E-LCA towards LCSA is a consistent and natural progression to the achievement of the overarching goal of assessing the relative sustainability of a system. In this light, three questions need to be addressed: First, what form should the integrated concept take in order to include technological innovation, economic valuation, and social systems? Second, what are the precise classifications of application? Traditionally, LCA has been successfully applied at the product level. Can LCSA be applied at the organizational level or the economy-wide level? If so, what are the rules for boundary definition? And, how do these different levels of applications relate? Third, international consensus has been achieved regarding the most important sustainability aspects to address through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Is it possible for LSCA to adapt and adopt methods to quantify and measure progress toward sustainability?

Further, will this expansion of E-LCA to LCSA enhance our ability to apply life cycle thinking in the use of other industrial ecological tools and concepts, including industrial symbiosis and material flow analyses?

This special issue seeks answers to these questions as part of our concerted effort as a community to reinforce the pertinence of the life cycle concept and industrial ecology to the latest thinking in sustainable development.

The special issue is organized by the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment section of the International Society for Industrial Ecology.

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