Interview with Mark Goedkoop on Social LCA – Intervista a Mark Goedkoop sulla Social LCA

13 October 2022

Mark is widely recognized as an international thought leader in the field of sustainability metrics and methodology development. His primary goal is to help companies create value from sustainable products and services. While with PRé, Mark has developed pioneering methodologies for impact assessment (Eco-indicator 95/99 and ReCiPe). He has also published seminal studies on sustainable consumption, rebounds, and product service systems methodology, as well as initiating development of the world’s most widely used LCA software, SimaPro. Mark is the initiator of the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics.

Here he tells us about the methodological developments regarding for Social LCA, Product Social Impact Assessment Handbook, following our interview four years ago.

Mark Goedkoop è riconosciuto come leader a livello internazionale nell’ambio della valutazione della sostenibilità e i relativi sviluppi metodologici. Il suo primo obiettivo è aiutare le aziende a creare valore con prodotti e servizi sostenibili. Con PRé, Mark ha sviluppato metodologie pionieristiche per la valutazione dell’impatto (Eco-indicator 95/99 e ReCiPe) e ha pubblicato studi di grande rilievo sul consumo sostenibile, rebound, e la metodologia dei sistemi di prodotto-servizio, oltre ad avere dato il via allo sviluppo di SimaPro, il software LCA più usato al mondo. Mark è l’iniziatore della Roundtable for Product Social Metrics.

Oggi ci racconta degli sviluppi della metodologia per la Social LCA, Product Social Impact Assessment, dopo la nostra intervista di 4 anni fa.

How has the Product Social Impact Assessment methodology developed in the past 4 years?

4 years ago we had just released the 2018 Handbook, which was the 3rd iteration of this concept. In this version we made quite some drastic changes. First, we redeveloped the structure of the text, so it could really be used as a handbook, guiding users step by step towards developing their first case study. Second, we dropped the description of the quantitative method, as we found it did not work in practice, and companies realised that the communication value is limited (it is valuable to report a 20% decrease of a carbon footprint, but nobody will be happy to report a 20% decrease of child labour). Third, we added the Small-Scale Entrepreneur stakeholder category, as especially in developing countries there are billions of people who cannot be considered workers, but who could be considered smallholders or what we often call the informal sector. This addition can be credited to Diana Indrane, who also pointed us to the weak methodological basis on which we choose the impact categories (or topics). With her we developed a methodology report that describes the social science basis, using the 5 capitals approach. With this we make it possible to add new topics when needed.

In 2019 we worked on the Implementation guide, as we realised it is great to have a handbook to support a first case study, but to create business value, the methodology should be embedded into the organisation. We used the Capability Maturity model also found on the UNEP LCI website to describe various levels of organisational maturity. Some of our partners, especially BASF and DSM had already much experience with this. Currently, several partners are using this as an inspiration to go from ad hoc studies to a well structured set of procedures and communication channels between departments.

In 2020 we further developed the handbook, especially by updating the definitions of the social topics (Impact (sub) categories), and creating much better definitions of the reference levels using International agreements, conventions etc. In the 2018 we often referred to local legislations, but these are often not defining an acceptable level at which well being is defined. The 2022 update is merely an improvement on guidance, which has especially influenced the Social Topics report. We decided not to change the reference scales as we also need to reach a level of stability.

On the organisational front we made quite some changes. Till 2020 we were known as a roundtable of experienced companies. We renamed this into a partnership to be more open to newcomers. In 2022 we further improved the openness, both to company members and to the broader Social LCA community. To be more open to companies we considered that to many companies the term LCA sounds as something complicated. Social also sounds complicated. So, therefore we renamed our initiative as the Social Value Initiative. See.

For the Social LCA community, we also opened a community of practice, where we invite anybody or any organisation to join free of charge and collaborate, share and inspire. We are currently setting up some working groups as already over 100 people joined. See   On this site we are also organising trainings.

What are the advantages offered by this methodology for companies and organizations?

In one word: pragmatism. If you look at the social and Human Capital Protocol, it gives great and valuable guidance, but section 3, on what to measure leaves many things open; it is not really a protocol in that sense. Still they also have a community of practice with over 20.000 subscribers and over 400 companies and organisations as supporters (we are one of them). Of course, we compare ourselves also with the Social LCA groups and we think the main difference is that they provide guidance, but leave many things open to the practitioner.

How do companies in the Social Value Initiative collaborate and what is the added value of joining the Social Value Community?

Companies really love to hear from each other how they are grappling with this complex topic and which solutions they have found; a large part of the value is mutual inspiration. We organise discussions around upcoming topics and share cases studies. Recent discussions resulted into two whitepapers; one on Portfolio Assessment and One on reporting. Currently we are discussing how the Handbook can help to satisfy the upcoming requirements around Due Diligence, CSRD (double materiality), Just transition, taxonomy etc. Implicitly this means we are drifting away from the focus on product, as we realise there are many applications for understanding the social impacts along the Value chain.