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Sustainability Analytics

Starting Point for More Sustainable Solutions

Sustainability Analytics is a compendium of science-based assessment tools and approaches available to support sustainable decisions. Application of one or more of the assessment tools or approaches may help decision makers to bring about a better understanding of the relationships and dependencies among and within the three pillars of sustainability—social, environmental and economic. Sustainability Analytics also includes examples and links to sources of how EPA has applied these tools to real-world problems.

Economic, Environmental & Social Pillars Environmental Pillar Social Pillar Economic Pillar
Assessing Sustainability

Sustainability assessment is a combination of procedures, methods, and tools by which a policy, program, or project may be assessed for its potential economic, social, and environmental impact as well as the distribution of those impacts within a population, a geographical area, a market, or across generations. Before a relevant set of sustainability assessment tools can be selected, applied or implemented, the context in which that suite of tools would be applied should be well understood.

Systems Thinking

Systems-thinking allows for a better understanding of the complex and dynamic relationships among systems and facilitates the investigation of potential consequences of system change with new policies, new technologies, new operating practices and new values. Systems-thinking relies on understanding the linkages and interactions both within and among systems, which generally involve cyclical feedback loops rather than linear cause-and-effect relationships.

Triple value model for sustainable systems Environmental Pillar Social Pillar Economic Pillar

Triple value model for sustainable systems. The sustainability of both the economic system and the social system depend on the availability of services from the environmental system. The services provided by the environmental system, otherwise known as ecosystem services, include provision of food, fuel, materials, water, and energy, as well as flood protection, climate regulation, pollination, and a host of other essential services.

Using Conceptual Models

A conceptual model provides a visual qualitative description of the systems and interactions under consideration. This interdependent depiction can help researchers, decision makers, and stakeholders better understand the systems in question. Conceptual models are especially helpful in the system characterization stage of problem formulation, which includes option identification, system definition (structure, boundaries, and function), and important characterization.

Conceptual  model of nutrient impairment in Narragansett Bay Environmental Pillar Economic Pillar Social Pillar

Conceptual model of nutrient impairment in Narragansett Bay. This simplified conceptual model depicts some of the causal relationships, key variables, and potential interventions that were identified through stakeholder engagement and are being built into the Narragansett decision support tool.

Effective Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement and collaboration is the process of working collaboratively with groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar circumstances to address issues affecting the well-being of those people. It is a powerful vehicle for bringing about changes to improve the health of a community. This type of collaboration often involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices.

Stakeholder engagement and collaboration should be initiated in the early stages of a project and maintained throughout the problem-solving process (problem scoping and formulation, goal-setting, indicator selection, alternative development, implementation, and evaluation).








Help us grow
While much progress has been made in the development, use, and integration of science-based assessment tools and approaches to solve complex, environmental challenges, much remains to be done. There is need for development of additional assessment tools and increased use of both existing and emerging tools to gain a greater understanding of the relationships that exist among economic, social, and environmental pillars when addressing these challenges. In some cases, specific knowledge gaps require new and revised assessment tools, methods, and data to understand complex dynamics between and among pillars. In other cases, new and complex challenges posed by a changing environment and technological innovation require new assessment tools and data sources to meet future challenges.

Help us grow by having the assessment tools and approaches included in Sustainability Analytics be more fully described; additional tools and approaches be identified; and, information about sustainability metrics, indicators, datasets and indices be included. Submit your ideas here.

For Sustainability Analytics, sustainability is defined as a process to “create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.” This language appeared in the US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 and was reaffirmed in the 2009 US Executive Order 13514 (PDF) (15 pp, 87K): Federal Leadership in Environmental and Economic Performance.

Sustainability Analytics neither sets policy nor dictates a process for implementing sustainability. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all assessment tools or approaches, nor does it provide in-depth instructions for applying each assessment tool or approach. These assessment tools, approaches and illustrative examples mentioned should be applied and considered in conjunction with all applicable rules and guidance and be consistent with existing authorities, including applicable law, regulations, and Executive Orders.

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