The Management and Practice of Sustainability: Part 4

Water on grass blade

We now have the final overview of the research, covering selected versions of the sustainability assessment tools, sustainability plans and reporting, evaluation of service sustainability, interpretation of findings, conclusions, and finally a list of the reference from the research. Hopefully this might be of help to others and inspire them in their own quest for managing for sustainability.

The range of sustainability assessment tools used by amenity departments are shown in the table below.

Sustainability Assessment Tools

Sustainability Assessment Tools

Whilst there will be overlap for the activities that the SATs can be used for, they have been categorised according to their primary use, as follows:

  • RA would be used to support both operational and strategic decision-making. Risk often plays a significant part within most decisions made by an amenity manager and this is reflected in the high use of this tool.
  • GFA and PQS are tools that managers can more readily use to aid routine operational management decisions. These are well used; the former is a more subjective ratings tool, whilst the latter is a more technical, objective tool based on measured criteria.
  • SIA and SEA/SA would typically be used for higher-level management decisions, such as for when writing sustainability or management plans, whilst EIA would be used for project planning of new or enhanced facilities. The use of EIA is also a regulatory requirement for new development / project work.
  • CBA would be the primary economic management tool and whilst underused at present could be integrated into a larger evaluation of sustainability, however, the problems of valuing benefits would need to be addressed.

The least used category of tools can require relatively large and complex quantities of data to make them effective; in addition the availability of data for them can be difficult to obtain, or may even be unobtainable and this provides a reasonable explanation as to why they are little used at present.

Categorisation of sustainability assessment tools

Categorisation of sustainability assessment tools

Sustainability plans and reporting

Sustainability is concerned with a longer term perspective, however, the time scales for the majority of sustainability plans, where they did exist, cannot be considered long term.  Just under one-half of departments had a sustainability plan and the most likely timescale for the plan was up to 5 years.

Timescale for sustainability plan

Timescale for sustainability plan

Evaluation of service sustainability

Managers used a wide range of SATs in evaluating the sustainability of a service, with 83.3 % of departments using one or more in evaluating their progress towards, or continued maintenance of, sustainability: The average number of SATs used per department was 3.7.

The SATs that were used would typically be for the purposes of site assessment (especially a park or sports surface), part of a process (risk analysis) or a project (environmental impact assessment). One reason why SATs would be used selectively, especially within different elements of a service, can primarily be explained by the complexity of the “many-dimensioned concept” of sustainability, as noted previously (Blewitt, 2008, p.29), and the difficulty of deciding on how to integrate these different dimensions into an overall evaluation that captures a holistic perspective of service sustainability.

Appropriate ICTs and sustainability indicators

The most appropriate SIs for use within a given situation will depend upon the requirements of service providers and stakeholders, however, the following indicator categories and groups can be considered as providing a useful foundation for contributing to the evaluation of a sustainable service:

  • Environmental SIs from each group: horticultural materials, energy, waste and other;
  • Economic SIs from each group: costs, time, unit analysis and other;
  • Social SIs from each group: usage, accessibility, social communication and other.

An appropriate, but not excessive, number of indicators spread evenly over the three categories, should be included in any assessment of the overall performance of sustainability. The actual number of indicators used would also depend upon the requirements of service providers and stakeholders.

A suggested approach for assessing the sustainable performance of a service is given in the table below; this provides scope for further development but could be readily implemented by amenity departments by extending the data that was already being collected, rather than starting by collecting new data or indicator types.

Spread and number of sustainability indicators for a sustainability assessment

Spread and number of sustainability indicators for a sustainability assessment

Each sustainability category contains 4 groups of SIs and with 7 SIs spread amongst the groups this provides a total of 21 SIs for the assessment process. This approach can be considered as containing an appropriate minimum number and corresponds with recommendations from other authors (Bell & Morse, 2008, p.178).

The band of equilibrium values for each SI can be ‘standardised’ into a rating scale of 1 – 10, which represents the progress towards sustainability, with 10 being the best value in the range. Measured values outside the band of equilibrium would indicate a recession away from sustainability if less than 1 and a strong progress towards sustainability or even ‘beyond sustainability’ where the value is greater than 10. An example of how a band of equilibrium can be represented and interpreted (as a slice of pie) is given in the figure below.

Illustration of a band of equilibrium

Illustration of a band of equilibrium

If progress was very successful then a position may be considered as ‘beyond sustainability’: This might be encountered where, for example, the replenishment of natural resources exceeds consumption.

To put the results of these individual assessments into a more easily understood perspective a suitable method of visual representation can be adopted. The figure below illustrates a completed example of a variation of the AMOEBA approach that can be used to present assessments of SIs. This example shows a general interpretation of an early adoption of 21 SIs, with the majority of values lying within the middle to low end of the band of equilibrium.

Example visual presentation of SI evaluation

Example visual presentation of SI evaluation

Interpretation of findings in relation to the research aim

The choice of which ICTs to use would depend on a number of factors, including the perceived need and usefulness of the ICTs, affordability, the availability of any specific applications and the capability of the ICTs to be integrated into existing systems: This latter point is especially pertinent from a technical perspective, as it is important that software can communicate efficiently within and between the different types of ICTs that comprise a system. Without effective systems communication it is unlikely that managers would adopt the technology.

There are four specific functional groups of ICTs that management will need to consider when planning how best to deliver a sustainable service: software for data recording and analysis; data processing hardware; message communication technology and data capture / monitoring equipment.

All decisions need to embrace the guiding principles of sustainability if a holistic approach to sustainable development and sustainable service delivery is to be followed. The use of a conceptual model can help visualize the different aspects of this research which influence the decision-making process.

The figure below illustrates this model as consisting of 4 interconnecting wheels:

  • The central wheel is representative of the primary operational considerations of amenity managers when making decisions. To be able to perform activities (or processes) they need inputs and consumable resources; the activities may have some constraints to which they have to comply with, and then there is the output / outcome to the activities (Sarkis et al, 2006, p.756). This central wheel could be further represented as a 3-dimensional cylinder, which contains the range of different activities needed to deliver a service.

The three outer wheels represent entities that can positively impact on the decision-making process:

  • The SIs wheel can be considered as a means of measuring the impact of activities and sustainability performance. The SIs wheel is facilitated by ICTs and contributes data to SATs. There is an intermediate wheel between the SIs and SATs wheels that would provide an analysis of the periodic assessments from the agreed groups of SIs.
  • The ICTs wheel includes the 4 functional groups of ICTs that provide the potential to enable more efficient and effective management decisions, to facilitate SIs and support the use of SATs.
  • The SATs wheel includes the range of tools to assist in the decision-making process by providing managers within an informed choice of potential options. It is recommended that at least one tool from each group is included within the evaluation process. MCA is also considered as a possible means to address the complexity of the interconnected parts of sustainability assessment.

This model focuses a manager’s attention not only on the operational decision making process, which would typically be uppermost in their mind, but also draws in other criteria that provide a wider holistic picture of the sustainable management of a service.

Conceptual model for the sustainable management of an outdoor amenity service

Conceptual model for the sustainable management of an outdoor amenity service

Conclusions about the research aim

The effective use of ICTs can be further improved by utilising a wider range of available technologies, especially newer technologies and by evaluating the sustainability of an entire service using a balanced range of SIs and SATs. The contribution that an amenity department can make to the sustainability of a delivered service and also to the local community that it serves can be significantly improved by effective stakeholder engagement. This would remove one of the common barriers to improving sustainability, with ICTs having a significant part to play in this engagement role.

The first consideration for amenity managers is often that of the operational management requirements of the service they are delivering; this needs to be to an acceptable standard and within the available budget. If a sustainable service is to be delivered, the guiding principles of sustainability need to be embraced by extending this consideration to a wider perspective that encompasses the entire local community and beyond. To aid managers in decision-making, a conceptual model that integrated the complex concept of sustainability and ICTs was developed.

A selection of recommendations has been made which require managers to decide how best to apply them to their often-unique situation and this has satisfied the requirements of the research aim. The success of ICT use in contributing to delivering a sustainable service can be significantly influenced by how well ICTs are integrated into an interconnected digital system.

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Chris Gray, 30th November 2018