The Management and Practice of Sustainability: Part 3

For part 3 I’ve pulled out some of the data analysis and evaluation of the research to give some insight.

Analysis

Analysis

The research focused firstly on identifying what was used within the subject area and then investigated how ICTs were integrated within business processes to support sustainability performance measures.

Amenity departments used a large number of different ICTs; some of these were distinctly more successfully used than others. The most successful were generally those technologies that have been well-established for over a decade, for example, computer software and websites; these have had time to become adopted into routine management activities.

Newer technologies are still in their early days of adoption and have yet to become embedded into supporting management activities, including environmental monitoring using wireless technologies (Marino et al, 2008), wireless sensor network systems (Lu et al, 2007; Cao et al, 2008) and social media technologies for two-way communication with stakeholders (Kajewski, 2007).

The social use of ICT by amenity departments for engaging with a local community, through the concept of a digital ecosystem (Rajagopalan & Sarkar, 2008), community network (Tonn, et al, 2001) or similar, was included to measure its potential for contributing towards a sustainable community. The research found that the different types of ICTs used to engage with a local community varied considerably, ranging from 11.8% to 90.2%.

The use of ICTs to assist in providing data for SIs was widespread: There was significant variability in the extent to which they actually facilitated SI data, for example, the use of data from sensors was little used for SI purposes. There was therefore, room for further significant development in this area of ICT use.

With sustainability being a many-dimensioned concept “encompassing social, ecological and economic goals and perspectives” (Blewitt, 2008, p. 23), sustainability reporting offers a means of positively engaging with and feeding back to stakeholders to assist them in making their own informed decisions and perspectives; sustainability reporting, however, was poorly developed and therefore provides a good opportunity for significant improvement.

The research investigated how extensively local authorities used all the three dimensions of sustainability – environmental, economic and social – within an operational context. Findings show that they were well used on an individual basis and in small clusters of indicators, but generally poorly used as an integrated and comprehensive approach to sustainability measurement.

Sustainability indicators from the three different categories were used by between 73% and 90% of amenity departments, however, the percentage of departments that used at least one sustainability indicator in each category was 65.9%. The typical number of indicators in use for any individual sustainability category was fairly similar, being between 4 and 6 depending upon the indicator category and the type of analysis undertaken; the social sustainability indicators were, in general, the most frequently used.

The use of one or more SATs was carried out by 83% of amenity departments, and the average number of different tools being used was 3.7. This research did not explore the specific uses to which these SATs were put, however, findings would seem to indicate that assessments were used for more limited purposes on defined geographic areas, such as parks, or were for specific amenity projects, such as development or improvement work to amenity land.

Different types of ICTs used and their use to assist in providing data for sustainability indicators

Different types of ICTs used and their use to assist in providing data for sustainability indicators

ICTs can be divided into 3 categories (APC, 2009): computers; telecommunications and networking technologies; for this analysis the ICTs have been grouped according to their general functional use.

The most and least successful groups of ICTs used are given in Table 4.1; software was the most successful group, whilst the message communication group was used by just one-half as many departments, despite containing the most successful individual ICT.

Functional groups of ICTs

Functional groups of ICTs

Aggregating and then ranking the data for the ICTs used with how many are used for facilitating the use of SIs can provide an indication of the overall relative success of ICTs. Figure 4.4 ranks the ICTs accordingly to their overall relative success, with the lowest scores in the figure being the most successful.This further illustrates how successfully used some ICTs have become; the more successful ones were, again, generally those that have been established for a relatively long period of time.

Relative success of ICTs

Relative success of ICTs

Environmental Sustainability Indicators

One or more environmental SIs were used by 75% of amenity departments. With climate change and environmental degradation already having been identified as impacting undesirably on society, the 25% of cases that either were not using any of these indicators, or did not know whether they were used, was surprisingly high.

Types of environmental sustainability indicator

Types of environmental sustainability indicator

The range of environmental SIs can be put into 4 groups, as given in Table 4.2. There is a significant difference between the most successfully used indicator group of waste and the second most successful group of energy. Waste minimisation reduces the financial burden of the landfill tax on LAs: Quantifying waste produced and improving recycling and reuse are primary measures used in assessing waste minimisation.

Grouping of environmental sustainability indicators

Grouping of environmental sustainability indicators

Economic Sustainability Indicators

The range of economic SIs can be put into 4 groups, as given in Table 4.3. The majority of these indicators were considered as being interlinked and the generally narrow usage ratio between them would indicate a common relationship exists between them.

Grouping of economic sustainability indicators

Grouping of economic sustainability indicators

Social Sustainability Indicators

The effectiveness of LA service delivery is now being measured by central Government using the Comprehensive Area Assessment framework (Audit Commission, 2009) which was introduced in 2009; this should further extend the quantity and diversity of social SIs used by amenity departments.

These drivers for community engagement are a significant reason why social SIs were the most frequently used by departments.

Types of social sustainability indicator

Types of social sustainability indicator

Grouping of social sustainability indicators

Grouping of social sustainability indicators

Monitoring the usage of a service, especially where the usage can have a detrimental impact on the vegetative cover of an amenity grassland area, can assist managers in providing a sustainable service because they will be able to more effectively manage usage by balancing it with the available carrying capacity of an area. Whilst the average figure for the usage indicator group is just over one-third, the wider deployment of these indicators will enable managers to determine which resources and inputs are providing the best return from a social perspective. The type of information gained from the use of these, and other, SIs would be fed-back into the decision-making process, with the aim being to continually improve on service delivery.

For the final Part 4 of this article I’ll look at some of the Sustainability Assessment tools, interpretation of findings and conclusion: again an edited version though.

Chris Gray, 18th November 2018