chapter  12
Introduction to assessment and monitoring tools
Pages 16

As we have seen in Chapter 11, there are many competing schools of thought on how to get people, organisations and communities to behave more sustainably. Some argue that we need a mix of economic penalties (e.g. taxes) and incentives (e.g. subsidies) to bring about sustainable behaviour change. Others suggest that we can rely on human curiosity and inventiveness to come up with new ways to meet our needs in regard to things like energy, food, water, and shelter. Several scholars (e.g. Benyus 1997) have argued that we need to radically redesign most human systems so that they emulate natural processes in regard to functions like the total recycling of all waste. The term ‘biomimicry’ has been used to suggest that close observation of nature might enable us to design things that function more sustainability and an example of this is in the design of wind turbine blades that generate 20 per cent more power because they have added bumps like those found on the tail of humpback whales.1 However, it has been argued throughout this book that clever inventions will not be enough to create sustainable societies. We need to raise awareness at all levels of society about the personal, cultural and social changes we need to make to live sustainably and there are numerous environmental assessment and monitoring tools that can be used for this purpose. This chapter can only provide an introduction to selected tools and assessment methodologies which all require more detailed explanation and

practical experience to be used effectively. No attempt is made here to provide a comprehensive review of available methods and tools. Rather the chapter begins with some tools and methods that require little expertise before introducing some approaches that would require further study. The aim here is to draw attention to particular tools and methods that are known to be effective in raising awareness among those using them, even if they do not necessarily suggest clear solutions. The emphasis in this chapter is on assessing and monitoring the challenges we face rather than ‘managing’ them. As argued in Chapters 4 and 5, the big challenges of sustainability are interlinked and can be seen as ‘wicked problems’ that require constant and ongoing attention rather than ‘resolution’. However, assessment and monitoring provides a good foundation for thinking about informed action and this chapter needs to be read in conjunction with Chapter 11. Ecological footprint calculators provide a good starting point for thinking about environmental impacts related to social units ranging for households to organisations, cities and nations. There are many such calculators in circulation and most of them are suitable for use by novices, so the concept is discussed here rather than any particular calculator. Another good starting point for investigating environmental impacts is to compile an inventory of raw materials and waste or to conduct an audit of energy use. Inventories and audits are a common starting point for a lot of environmental impact assessment work but this chapter will stop short of introducing the much more complex task of compiling an Environmental Impact Assessment report. While the chapter introduces a particular tool for assessing risk, more attention is focused on the two processes of life-cycle analysis and costbenefit analysis, which were mentioned in Chapter 6. Both of these processes tend to raise questions rather than provide answers but they play an important role in both widening and specifying our understanding of the environmental and social impacts and consequences of a project or enterprise. They provide a strong foundation for some of the forms of action discussed in Chapter 11. The chapter then returns to the relatively new ‘scenarios mapping’ approach to future thinking that was introduced in Chapter 6. Scenarios mapping workshops, it will be argued, require a lot of thought and preparation to be successful but the underlying principles are not difficult to grasp. All tools and methods have their strengths and weaknesses and this makes it important for sustainability practitioners to have a big toolbox and a working knowledge of diverse approaches. However, there is an underlying danger in thinking that complex challenges can be broken down and effectively measured. Assessment and monitoring can only ever be approximate and contingent because the world we live in is more unpredictable than we had imagined and that is the topic of the chapter’s thematic essay. The key aims of this chapter are to demonstrate that:

■ selected assessment and monitoring tools can raise awareness of environmental and social challenges; and

■ assessment and monitoring can provide a strong foundation for the action strategies discussed in Chapter 11.