Keywords: analytical framework, environmental assessment, impact assessment, sustainability
Sustainability impact assessments: a new comprehensive framework for raising the bar beyond existing environmental assessments
Much systematic research and attention is being directed towards sustainability indicators, but comparatively little towards analytical tools for comprehensive sustainability impact assessments that can guide economic activities, programmes and specific projects towards decisions and sustainable actions, which will ultimately be reflected in the indicators. Existing tools of analysis, such as environmental impact assessment, ISO 14001 and life-cycle assessment, are limited in scope towards certain environmental elements of sustainable development and are limited in geographic scale of application. However, sustainability covers a comprehensive set of social, economic, and environmental issues, and with increased economic globalisation must include impacts upon multiple geographic scales. This paper discusses a new comprehensive analytical framework for asking the right questions to guide sustainability impact assessments for economic activities, programmes and specific projects. Some distinguishing features are the inclusion of indirect and support activities, social and economic issues, comprehensive environmental issues and multiple geographic scales. A case example is presented to demonstrate the framework. The existing tools noted above are analysed for their strengths and weaknesses for sustainability impact assessments and compared to the new framework. Finally, potential policy applications are discussed for government, private sector, institutions and NGOs. It is concluded that the sustainability impact assessment framework presented can significantly "raise the bar" for promoting sustainability, but that to answer the sustainability questions raised there must be operational simplifications in using sustainability proxies and criteria during future research and applications.