Social aspects in RoBUTCHER project: lessons learnt

10. mars 2023

The most important contribution of NORSUS to the project was to map the social impacts before and after the potential implementation of an autonomous robotic system such as RoBUTCHER in the pig meat processing industry. Included in this work was to improve the methodology and application of Social-Life Cycle Assessments to an innovative industrial system using the European pig meat processing sector as a case study.

By Clara Valente/ NORSUS

Our contribution was in defining appropriate key social performance indicators for the meat processing sector and industries, creating a baseline scenario for comparative analysis to a future scenario, and a to assess the social impacts of a future scenario.

The background of the analysis was that the working environment and job quality are among the main social concerns in the meat processing industry internationally. Abattoir workers are often subjected to stressors of various nature (both physical and psychological), there are challenges in the meat industry in recruiting workers (labour shortages) and the risk of damaged reputation for a company is high when products are associated with bad working conditions and a breach of human rights. The introduction of RoBUTCHER will significantly affect the way of working in abattoirs and the communities surrounding them. Thus, when developing such technology, it is therefore important to also assess the social consequences.

Focus group interviews were another activity where NORSUS contributed to the project by engaging experts and stakeholders from the meat sector. The focus groups were used as input to the S-LCA. The purpose of the focus groups was for stakeholders and industry experts to discuss social aspects relating to the RoBUTCHER, for example, how the system will affect the working conditions of the workers, the composition of the employees at the slaughterhouse in gender and age, the training requirement etc. in the deployment phase of the RoBUTCHER system.

In conclusion, NORSUS has contributed to identifying the social challenges and providing recommendations to the meat processing sector and industry for achieving SDGs 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10. With the aim of guiding companies towards social sustainable behaviour by “preserving and creating skills as well as the capabilities of future generations, promoting health and supporting equal and democratic treatments that allow for good quality of life both inside and outside of the company context “(Longori and Cagliano 2014).

S-LCA methodology
The application of the S-LCA methodology and the development of scoring system for assessing the social impacts of innovative industrial system before and after their implementation was the main knowledge developed in the project, that can be used in other projects and in other industrial food processing sectors. A priority list of social subcategories and indicators for covering the most appropriate social aspects in the meat processing industry has been established and it can be tested for similar research cases. The knowledge gained during the assessment can be used not only by researchers but also by industries for internal decision making and for implementing sustainability strategy at industrial level, and for external decision making in communication and marketing strategy.

NORSUS` main challenge in the project was mainly related to the data collection phase. The data quality and availability especially when assessing the implementation of new technology at the pilot stage was the main limitation of our study. Also, the lack of harmonization in accounting and reporting social impacts at the industrial level was also another challenge. Still, the survey and focus group interviews were useful tools for gathering data about a future scenario.

Group picture from focus group held in August 2022 at NMBU

Longori, A. and Cagliano, R. (2014) ‘Environmental and social sustainability priorities’, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 12(4), pp. 564– 578. doi: 10.1108/026567102104157