Evaluation of sustainable innovations in olive growing systems: A Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment case study in southern Italy
Abstract Innovations are increasingly needed by companies to engage in new market competitiveness. Conscientious consumers are demanding sustainable products and services, and “new qualities” are requested, such as environmental protection, social equitability and economic viability. To satisfy this demand, companies are struggling to find innovative solutions to sustainability concerns. The present paper proposes an innovative and integrated approach, i.e., the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment, a methodology that is still under development within the conceptual framework of Life Cycle Thinking (Klopffer, 2008). Life Cycle Assessment, Life Cycle Costing and social Life Cycle Assessment are integrated here by means of a multicriterial and participative method, the Analytic Hierarchy Process. This case study is about growing Calabrian olives, which is the most important crop in terms of surface area at a regional level. The study focuses on an important agronomic practice, i.e., weeding. The functional unit is 1 ha of cultivated surface, and the system boundary is “from cradle to farm gate”. The time boundary considered here is the expected life of an olive tree corresponding to 50 years. All of the primary data have been gathered through specific in-field surveys with semi-structured questionnaires to farmers and workers. Nine impact categories and quantitative indicators, direct and/or proxy, cover the three primary sustainability dimensions, i.e., environment, economy and society. Three scenarios have been chosen for their relevance to the Calabrian panorama as follows: - a control scenario (CS), which is represented by the conventional and traditional farming system, that commonly recurs according to the use of chemicals for weed and pest control; - a low-dosage/no-tillage (LDNT) scenario, as represented by a reduced use of chemicals; and. - a zero chemical weeding (ZCW) scenario, representing the organic farming system. The results of the multicriterial analysis revealed that the greatest stakeholder concerns are environmental and social sustainability, especially in terms of toxicity and worker health. According to these preferences, low-dosage/no-tillage was the best scenario, with better performance for all of the selected categories except for job opportunities. Holistic sustainability assessments, especially those involving relevant stakeholders, are essential strategies for successfully satisfying and retaining customers, and the present epistemological hybrid proposal to the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment could serve this purpose.