Sustainability Solutions : Lessons on Assessment and Facilitation

Abstract: Sustainable development is one of the most influential visions guiding future societies. Encompassed within its vision are various domains where improvements are desirable such as, social equity, environmental degradation, climate change. In the work towards sustainable development firms, government authorities and individuals face various practical challenges tied to these sustainability domains. When facing these challenges, they may implement sustainability solutions, that is, solutions that are framed in the context of contributing to sustainable development. This thesis deals with a particular sub-set of such sustainability solutions, namely integrative and multi-functional solutions. These solutions are characterized by the ability to provide different functions through value creation within several different sustainability domains and require organisations, or units of organisations, to further integrate material, energy and informational flows in order to implement the solution. Integrative and multi-functional solutions may play an important part in the transition towards sustainable societies since the integration of material, energy and informational flows may bring with it synergistic benefits. Furthermore, the contribution of these solutions to several different sustainability domains reduces the risk of problem shifting, and it may be more cost-efficient to have one multi-functional sustainability solution than to have one for each sustainability- related challenge.However, if integration and multi-functionality are desirable characteristics of future socio-technological systems, we need ways to systematically assess them and facilitate their implementation. When it comes to the assessment, there is a need to find an assessment methodology that can handle capturing the synergistic benefits and multiple functions of such solutions. Furthermore, the methodology also has to conform to the value pluralism inherent to sustainable development. Dealing with this value pluralism when trying to assess which solution, among many, to implement can be challenging as comparative judgements have to handle potentially conflicting value orientations, goals, empirics and ontologies. As for the facilitation of their implementation, integrative and multi-functional solutions tend to be more difficult—or at least different—to implement than traditional single-minded solutions since they require traditionally separate organisations to cooperate Therefore, this thesis aims to contribute to understanding the process of implementing integrative and multi-functional solutions. Specifically the thesis explores how to select indicators for assessment, how assessments may aid decision-makers to deal with the value pluralism of sustainable development when making comparative judgements and how to strengthen the internal capacity of groups of actors to engage in collective action.Regarding the selection of indicators, the thesis suggests two different pathways. Either one may base indicator selections on stakeholder discussions, where stakeholders come to a consensus around which indicators are important to assess, or one may base indicators on operationalising pre-defined sustainability objectives: namely, sorting, contextualising and reformulating pre-defined sustainability objectives so that they fit the purpose of the assessment. A mix of both pathways is also possible, in other words, using both stakeholder discussions and the operationalisation of pre-defined sustainability objectives to motivate and justify the selection of indicators. As for how assessments may aid decision-makers, the thesis advocates for a discursive approach based on the primacy of decision support tools over decision-making tools. Meaning that the tools should support informed decisions but not make them for the decisionmaker. Here, contributions are made in the form of motivations for the discursive, qualitative approach to decision-making and exemplify how decision support tools may be designed, and a method is presented and developed that enables this kind of informed comparative judgements. This method builds on multicriteria decision analysis methodology but makes a few key contributions to the selection of indicators (mentioned previously) and to how to compare different alternatives and judge which of the alternatives is the preferred. Finally, contributions are made to the practice of facilitating integrative and multi-functional solutions through showing how the theory of institutional capacity building can be used to guide design, development and evaluation of interventions aimed at facilitating such solutions. Institutional capacity building represents the ability of groups of actors to engage in collective action, something that seems to be often needed to implement integrative and multi-functional solutions. Historically, this theory has been used to study how different events influenced the capacity of actors to engage in collective action. However, in research performed within the bounds of this thesis, the theory is expanded for use in a proactive manner, thereby contributing with insights and inspiration to others that may seek to facilitate the implementation process of integrative and multi-functional solutions.

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