Surfing the landscape of barriers and incentives to sustainability assessment in an urban development context

Assessment of urban sustainability can be considered as a means to an end as it is often intended to guide decision-making in a way that contributes to sustainable urban development. The contribution of assessment mechanisms towards the achievement of this goal depends to a large extent on the level of use and adoption of sustainability assessment tools amongst the diversity of users. Since the development of a Sustainable Development Strategy in 1998, the UK Government has given sustainable development prominence on the policy agenda, with similar emphasis being reflected at EU legislation level. Investigation of the barriers and incentives to sustainability assessment can supplement this increasing prominence of sustainability in decision-making processes and the equally increasing need for sustainability assessment. A review of the literature on the subject suggests that although much has been written on barriers and incentives to sustainability, very little work has been done on factors that hinder or encourage uptake of sustainability assessment tools. Against this background, the aim of this paper is to investigate and identify the barriers and incentives to sustainability assessment and the adoption of assessment tools. This should provide a starting point for assessing the potential impact of various approaches and incentives to overcome the barriers to sustainability assessment. Four broad sets of barriers and incentives are identified as perceptual, institutional; economic; and technological factors. The paper further discusses some of the enablers associated with the various policies and legislative instruments at the political hierarchies of: the EU; the UK (including the devolved governments); and local government levels. The paper concludes by suggesting that the identified barriers and incentives should be given due consideration during the development of any sustainability assessment tool.