Is life cycle assessment enough to address unintended side effects from Circular Economy initiatives?

Monia Niero*, Charlotte Jensen, Chiara Farné Fratini, Jens Dorland, Michael Søgaard Jørgensen, Susse Georg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Despite the spread of policy and business initiatives aiming at transitioning to a Circular Economy (CE), the concept is criticized in the scientific literature for its lack of emphasis on social contexts. Implementing CE initiatives to production systems can indeed lead to “unintended side effects,” that is, both rebound effects and other indirect shifts in consumption patterns. In this forum article we address the question: “How to make the unintended side effects of implementing CE initiatives knowable and actionable?” We argue that the ability of life cycle assessment (LCA) to address unintended side effects from CE initiatives is limited, as LCA can model how different product systems interact with each other, but does not attend to the socio-technical dynamics taking place within and across different life cycle phases. To extend the potential of LCA in supporting decision-making, our suggestion is to complement LCA with other types of analytical approaches, such as Practice Theory (PT) and Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which can improve our understanding of the unintended side effects of CE initiatives. These theories consider societal dynamics as socio-technical and focus on the processes and practices through which production and consumption dynamics change. Thus, they can provide analyses of whether and how CE initiatives are capable of realizing novel relations within/among socio-technical systems. Ultimately, they can provide explanations on why things end up the way they do, thus supporting LCA in the investigation of more "real" rather than ideal scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Volume25
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1111-1120
Number of pages10
ISSN1088-1980
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Actor-Network Theory
  • Circular Economy
  • industrial ecology
  • life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Practice Theory
  • rebound effect

Cite this