Handbook of Sustainability Assessment
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Handbook of Sustainability Assessment

Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond

The Handbook of Sustainability Assessment introduces the theory and practice of sustainability assessment and showcases the state-of-the-art research. The aim is to provide inspiration and guidance to students, academics and practitioners alike and to contribute to the enhancement of sustainability assessment practice worldwide. It emphasises how traditional impact assessment practices can be enhanced to contribute to sustainable outcomes. Featuring original contributions from leading sustainability assessment researchers and practitioners, it forms part of the Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series.
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Chapter 8: A sustainability assessment framework for energy systems: building an appropriate relationship with energy

Kyrke Gaudreau and Robert B. Gibson


The purpose of this chapter is to develop a sustainability assessment framework for understanding what a constructive and appropriate relationship with energy entails and what steps are required to achieve the necessary sociotechnical systems change. In order to do so, this chapter poses two general questions: 1. What is the ‘energy problem’? This question helps ground energy systems analysis and energy decision making within a sustainability assessment worldview. 2. What are the characteristics of a constructive societal relationship with energy? This second question builds upon the first question by exploring the soft energy path and transition management. Consideration of these two questions guides the development of the sustainability assessment framework focused on energy systems. In this chapter we propose a set of sustainability criteria for energy systems, variants of which have been applied in different contexts (Gaudreau and Gibson, 2010; Winfield et al., 2010; Duarte et al., 2013). There are, of course, good reasons to ask why we should be concerned about how we deal with energy issues and options. Societies today are facing an escalating and interrelated series of challenges and crises at an unprecedented scale. For example, Diamond (2005) describes 12 interdependent biophysical problems facing our world, including those relating to climate change, biodiversity, water availability and quality, overreliance on fossil fuels, and the increasing amount of primary productivity being captured for human purposes.

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