Life Cycle Assessment on Life and Death: Comparing Lives Saved by an Airbag with Lives Lost during Its Production
Conference contribution, 2011
Recently, a framework for including social impacts of a products life cycle has been developed by United Nations Environmental Programme and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. That framework includes impact categories such as human rights, working conditions and governance. Here, we present a different approach that balances impacts with benefits: lives saved by the product during the life cycle minus lives lost during the life cycle as impact category. The study object, and also the functional unit of the study, is an air bag with its electronic control system. The main object of an airbag is to save lives. However, during the production of the airbag and its control systems, lives may be lost, for instance in the production of pyrotechnical content of the airbag and in the mining of metals for the electronic control unit. The mining of metals often takes place in developing countries with poor legislation for working conditions and sometimes conflict areas. The impact is characterized as the average number of lives saved per functional unit minus the casualties believed to occur during production of one functional unit. This is a convenient indicator since it easy to interpret and comprehend. It also gives a quantitative estimate of whether the airbag is reasonable from a social point of view from a life cycle perspective, or if it just exports the casualties to other parts of the world. We also discuss in the study when there is a benefit to gain from investigating social impacts along a life cycle. The study is currently ongoing, and results will be ready to for presentation by the time of the conference.