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Understanding Cobalt's Human Cost

What makes one technology more sustainable than another?  Pure calculations of associated greenhouse gas output, toxic byproducts, and other direct environmental factors hold deserved pride of place in these calculations, but in their recent paper published in One Earth, a team of researchers including CESR Co-Director Jennifer Dunn argue that these numbers only tell part of the story. Harvesting of raw materials, such as cobalt in the Lualaba province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is often associated with significant negative impacts on the local population that cannot be measured in standard Environmental Life Cycle Assessments of end technologies.  Complimenting these calculations with a Social Life Cycle Assessment would yield a truer picture of the what goes into (and comes out of) a technology’s creation process; in this case, unsafe working conditions, food insecurity, and the disruption of social networks through the imposition of mining claims on existing communities.  While this work proves a vital data point for the assessment of cobalt-containing technologies, it also serves as a guide to future researchers seeking to create S-LCAs for other materials, helping to pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable future.


Read more here.

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