Barriers to the adoption of sustainability assessment tools in strategic decision making
2010-08-13T11:35:40Z (GMT) by
The ubiquitous drive towards a more sustainable future has resulted in major changes in the planning and design of urban environments. Government strategies on sustainable development, published in 1999 and 2005, are thought to be driving the development of new legislations that are aimed at delivering a sustainable future for the UK. As a result, conventional stand-alone approaches to decision making in strategic planning are being replaced by more participatory and evidence-based approaches. These focus on achieving sustainability by taking into account the dynamic interactions between social, economic and environmental aspects of urban environments. The sheer volume of complex urban issues, the multiplicity of stakeholders and their varying values and diversity of viewpoints - all contribute towards making urban sustainability and its assessment an intellectually challenging task. Many tools have been developed to aid the decision making process by assessing the impacts of urban projects throughout their lifecycle. Sustainability assessment (SA) tools range from the assessment of a single indicator within a given context to the integrated assessment of a wide range of indicators covering many facets of sustainable development. However, the adoption of SA tools in decision making for strategic planning remains low. This paper reports on the findings of the research aimed at the identification and classification of the factors that had the potential to hinder or encourage the adoption of SA tools during the preparation of a local strategic plan. Based on the findings of a review of relevant literature, a questionnaire survey, followup interviews and a case study, the application context of SA tools was identified. To better understand the barriers to the adoption of SA tools, concepts from information sciences were taken into account. The findings reveal that in the complex platform of decision making, the adoption of tools is often constrained by the chain effects of interconnected barriers relating to technology, people and resources. The lack of appropriate tools to serve the demands of the sustainability assessment process and the lack of relevant expertise are the major barriers to the adoption of SA tools. Emerging policy context calls for robust and integrated tools that will perform efficiently to guide the decision making process. Joined-up efforts are required from academia and industry to develop the SA tools and to enhance professionals’ skills in the application of SA tools to meet the challenges of sustainability decision making in an emerging policy context.