Purpose: Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Social Life Cycle Analysis (SLCA) are tools acknowledged to have a role to play in the transition towards Sustainable Production and Consumption patterns (SPC). However, the role they play in this transition is seldom discussed, especially for SLCA. In addition, although the importance of taking a life cycle thinking (LCT) in the progression towards SPC seems indisputable, its added value is seldom made explicit. This article wishes to highlight the role of SLCA in the transition towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns and questions the relevance of LCT in this role. Methods: To answer this question, we first identify the applications of SLCA that correspond to actions that have to be taken in the transition towards SPC based on the SPC and SLCA literature. Then, the relevance of LCT in the context of the different applications identified previously is questioned through a qualitative discursive analysis approach. Results: The social goal of SPC is poorly discussed, and the SLCA literature can be one source of inspiration to define what this goal could be. On the basis of the UNEP-SETAC (2009) Guidelines' SLCA ultimate goal, SPC could be a means to improve stakeholders' social conditions through the improvement of enterprises' behaviours. The intended applications of SLCA for potentially supporting the improvement of enterprises' behaviours are found to be the identification of hotspots in order to highlight areas of improvement inside the sphere of influence of the SLCA user and the guidance of purchasing and substitution choices on the basis of enterprises' behaviours. In this article, it is suggested that, for SLCA to deserve the "LCT label", it has to capture impact transfers along the products' life cycle. Otherwise, an "ability-to-act-on" perspective is the proper angle to adopt in the identification of areas of improvement inside the sphere of influence and a "cradle-to-retailer", the one to adopt when SLCA is used to guide buy/boycott. Conclusions: Aside from revisiting the role of LCA and SLCA in SPC and the raison d'être of LCT, we discuss some considerations which we believe should be taken into account when developing SLCA in the context of SPC. In conclusion, this article points to the importance of framing the use of Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment tools in their context of use. © 2012 Springer-Verlag.
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