Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond
Chapter 2: A conceptual framework for sustainability assessment
In Chapter 1 we described the burgeoning use of the term ‘sustainability assessment’, and the many different applications of sustainability assessment that can now be found in the literature, some of which are forms of ex ante impact assessment and some which take an ex post evaluation approach. There is also variety in terminology used to refer to the sustainability assessment that is a form of impact assessment, including sustainability appraisal (particularly in England), integrated assessment, integrated sustainability assessment and sustainability impact assessment. The point has not yet been reached at which there is universal consensus as to what any of these terms mean, much less a commonly understood process for conducting them. International practice varies considerably depending upon the legal and governance structures in place, the broader policy context and the form of decision making to which the assessment is applied. This variety is evident in the recently published book Sustainability Appraisal: A Sourcebook and Reference Guide to International Experience (Dalal-Clayton and Sadler, 2014). Given the variety of practice and lack of a standardised approach, the first challenge faced in any discussion of sustainability assessment is to articulate how it can be meaningfully distinguished from other forms of impact assessment and other environmental governance processes. It has been pointed out that ‘the common cause shared by all environmental assessment and management tools [is] that of sustainability, even though many did not start out with that as the underlying purpose’ (Sheate, 2009, p. 19).
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