Scales and boundaries for sustainability assessments

Scales and boundaries for sustainability assessments

What are the 'righ' scales and boundaries for sustainability assessments?

Sustainability assessment scales

Assessment to suit different scales:

Developing of the assessment tool: Build flexibility into the tool to address the diversity by allowing limited exclusion of sub-themes from assessments
Approach: assess the available resources to conduct the assessment at the forefront – select the right boundary, method (target driven or ISA) and stage (continuous assessment throughout project life cycle or a cross sectional assessment).

Further references

Finland's Ministry of the Environment (2007) Existing Assessment Tools and Indicators: Building up Sustainability Assessment
Engineers Against Poverty and Arup (2009) ASPIRE user manual and R&D report
Lee, N University of Manchester Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice in Integrated Assessment

Consider a range of scales throughout the project lifecycle, and both direct and indirect impacts on the target community

Define assessment boundaries:

  • The first step of sustainability assessment: understand project scope and objectives, and define the boundary
  • The assessment boundary may be different from the project boundary. Infrastructure developments often have broader social, ecological and economic footprints
  • The more broadly the assessment boundary is defined, the more likely the analysis will reflect the full impacts and opportunities associated with the project
  • However, a broader boundary makes analysis more complicated
Case Study: Point Wells in New Zealand is an example of how to define project boundary and select assessment method for project objectives and scale. Impacts of assessment method on design option selection is also presented. Refer to "Sustainability Assessment for a First Time Wastewater Scheme", presentation by Thomas Haarhoff from Harrison Grierson Consultants (2008)

Key considerations when defining the assessment boundary are:

Regulatory and institutional context: is the project located in a developed country or a developing country? What regulatory framework is in place? What authorities and agencies are involved?

Geographical coverage: what are the physical boundaries of the project?

Sphere of influence: what is the potential sphere of influence environmentally, socially and economically?

Scale: is the assessment at a project/programme level or is it at settlement, regional or even national level?

Time: does the project comprise of several phases or is it intended to be replicated or scaled up in the future? If so, will the assessment address only the current project phase or both the current and future phases?

Resource: to what extent are the staffing, expertise and financial support and relevant data available to complete the assessment? What are the time constraints to complete the assessment?