Sustainability assessment: the state of the art

07 February 2014

Sustainability assessment is a recent framing of impact assessment that places emphasis on delivering positive net sustainability gains now and into the future. It can be directed to any type of decision-making, can take many forms and is fundamentally pluralistic. Drawing mainly on theoretical papers along with the few case study examples published to date (from England, Western Australia, South Africa and Canada), this paper outlines what might be considered state-of-the-art sustainability assessment. Such processes must: (i) address sustainability imperatives with positive progress towards sustainability; (ii) establish a workable concept of sustainability in the context of individual decisions/assessments; (iii) adopt formal mechanisms for managing unavoidable trade-offs in an open, participative and accountable manner; (iv) embrace the pluralistic inevitabilities of sustainability assessment; and (v) engender learning throughout. We postulate that sustainability assessment may be at the beginning of a phase of expansion not seen since environmental impact assessment was adopted worldwide.