A number of sustainability frameworks and tools have been created and are currently in use. Some of these tools are general and theoretical and therefore more useful for planning. Other tools are more specific and practical. It may be best to work with a combination of tools in order to develop the best strategy. This page describes how these frameworks work together within a logical hierarchy.
frameworks and tools
A number of sustainability frameworks and tools for analysing, measuring and managing sustainable practices have been created and are currently in use. Most of these tools are complementary and not contradictory.
Sustainability is a goal – for individuals, families, businesses, communities and society as a whole. Approaches, frameworks and the tools and tactics used to achieve the goal of sustainability are varied but they are all working for the same purpose.
The approaches and tools that have emerged can be interrelated within the following overarching hierarchy.
- Principles for the constitution of the system – ecological, social and economic principles
- Principles for the goals of the system – sustainability principles
- Principles and strategies for the process to reach the goals of the system – sustainability strategies
- Tactics and actions that put process into practice – sustainable practices
- Tools that monitor and audit the processes and/or the status of the system
The overall system
Any principles for planning the sustainable development and practices within the earth’s broader ecosystem – the ecosphere – must be based on an understanding of the functioning of this system. This includes understanding of thermodynamics; biological, geological and chemical cycles; ecology of plants and animals; impacts and exchanges of human societies and economies.
The goal is the state of being sustainable. The Natural Step further defines the state of sustainability as a combination of Four System Conditions (as they are known):
- Nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the earth’s crust
- Nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances produced by human society
- Nature is not subject to systematically increasing degradation by physical means
- The global needs of human society are met
The process to reach the state of being sustainable can be planned using a relevant strategic framework. Frameworks for planning and managing these processes come in many guises; examples include the UN’s Three E’s (Economy, Environment, social Equity), the Triple Bottom Line, The Natural Step Framework, Agenda 21, ISO14001, Ceres Principles and Natural Capitalism.
There are broad range of practices – tactics, behaviours and technologies – that make up the process of sustainability. Practices such as recycling, using renewable energy, collecting rainwater, using biodegradable products etc. Many of these types of practices are outlined on this website.
Measuring and auditing is very important because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. There are a number of tools available for measuring sustainability practices and/or the state of the ecosystem. The tools include:
- Ecological Footprint
- Global Reporting Initiative
- Greenhouse Gas Protocol
- Life Cycle Assessment
- Life Cycle Costing
These types of tools range in complexity and relevance to needs.