Using Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment to trade off sourcing strategies for humanitarian relief items

E. van Kempen, E. Spiliotopoulou, G. Stojanovski, S.L.J.M. de Leeuw

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Purpose: While interest in supply chain sustainability has risen over the past few years in academic and business worlds, very little research has been conducted on sustainability in humanitarian supply chains, specifically. This study aims to contribute to the development of the field by conducting a life cycle sustainability analysis (LCSA) of sourcing scenarios for a core relief item in a humanitarian supply chain. Methods: This paper is structured according to the LCSA framework developed by Guinée et al. (Environ Sci Technol 45(1):90–96, 2011). The relief item analyzed is a kitchen set supplied by a UN agency. Environmental, social, and economic impacts of two sourcing scenarios for a kitchen set are mapped: one international and one local. Sources of data include interviews, company records, and online databases. Results are analyzed using the ReCiPe method to assess environmental impact and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)/Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) guidelines to assess social impact. Results and discussion: We show how LCSA can be used to map the sustainability of two sourcing scenarios for kitchen sets in a humanitarian supply chain along triple bottom line dimensions. We report findings on sourcing scenarios for distribution to two refugee camps in Kenya: one from a supplier in India and one from a supplier in Kenya. We use an environmental life cycle analysis (LCA), a social LCA, and a life cycle costing (LCC) to analyze differences and similarities. We find that local sourcing is preferred over international sourcing on two out of the three sustainability dimensions—environmental and social impacts. Humanitarian organizations may further use this paper as a guideline to develop their own sustainability assessments of supply chain scenarios. Conclusions: The results of our study provide a fresh, sustainability-focused perspective on the debate over international vs. local procurement. This paper is the first to apply LCSA to a humanitarian context. It also addresses a void in the sourcing literature by determining the sustainability impacts of different sourcing strategies. The study evaluates only two sourcing options and also uses a limited number of data sources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1718-1730
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


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