Including socio-economic impacts of agriculture in life cycle assessments

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


This chapter is dedicated to impacts that are related to social and economic pressures, such as underpayment of labour, illegitimate resource acquisition and control, and inadequate work conditions, in contrast to the impacts that are related to physical pressures (use of land, fossil fuels, freshwater etc., or emissions of e.g. nutrients and pesticides), issues that have been largely covered in the preceding chapters of this book.

However, it is worth noting that it is only possible to maintain the distinction between (bio-) physical and socio-economic when referring to the level of pressures, i.e. the direct interactions or flows between human activities and the environment. Once the impact pathway is modelled further from these pressures, it turns out that all biophysical pressures eventually also have impacts on the social and economic environment (Weidema, 2018).

To perform a holistic socio-economic assessment, the integration of different scientific traditions is required, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. From the economic discipline we have cost–benefit analysis with a strong quantitative tradition, developed quite isolated from the rest of the social sciences where a more qualitative social impact assessment has been developed. Both of these disciplines have developed in isolation from the quantitative ecological science that has largely left it to economists to perform the valuation of the ecological impacts. A parallel development has occurred in the health sciences, where health economics is a relatively new discipline building on the quantification of risk factors for different health outcomes. Another example of the compartmentalisation of science can be found in the early development of energy analysis of product supply chains into what is now known as life cycle assessment, a development that took place in isolation from economic disciplines of input–output analysis and cost–benefit analysis. This compartmentalisation is now slowly being overcome, as described in this chapter.This chapter describes the development and state of the art of cost–benefit assessment and social impact assessment in agriculture (Sections 2–6) and their integration into models and tools with an economy-wide supply chain perspective (Section 7). A broad picture of socio-economic impacts of agricultural development is treated in Sections 8–11. Section 12 considers the role of certification and fair-trade schemes.This chapter does not intend to explicitly cover all socio-economic impacts of agriculture. For example, no descriptions are provided on how to measure impacts on animal welfare or on the role of agriculture in preservation of cultural heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAssessing the environmental impact of agriculture
EditorsBo P. Weidema
Number of pages29
PublisherBurleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited
Publication date2019
ISBN (Print) 978-1-78676-228-3
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78676-230-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Cite this