Quantitative assessment of sustainability using linkage-based frameworks: a case study of universities

Waheed, Bushra (2011) Quantitative assessment of sustainability using linkage-based frameworks: a case study of universities. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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A sustainability assessment tool can help decision and policy-makers to take appropriate actions for making society more equitable. Sustainability assessment involves various tiers of information such as performance objectives, assessment criteria, indices, indicators and variables. Quantitative measurement and assessment of sustainability have always been a challenge. Several approaches or conceptual frameworks have been proposed in various disciplines ranging from engineering to business and policy-making. A critical literature review of sustainability assessment frameworks revealed that existing frameworks have limited capability to deal comprehensively with different issues of sustainability. These also lack flexibility to be adapted in various disciplines with a unified interpretation. However, linkage-based frameworks can integrate information at all levels and guide long-term actions directed at reducing environmental health threats using causality relationships. Comparison of various linkage-based frameworks shows that the driving force-state-exposure-effect-action (DPSEEA) framework can be used to achieve sustained health benefits and environmental protection in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. Further, its similarity with ecological and human health risk assessment and risk management paradigms sets it apart from the other linkage-based frameworks. -- A quantitative model based on the DPSEEA framework is developed for sustainability assessment of higher education institutions (HEIs) based on environmental, socio-economic, and educational performance as viable dimensions of sustainability. A comprehensive list of sustainability indicators under each dimension is selected to assess sustainability using a surrogate measure called sustainability index (SI). This causality based model is called DPSEEA-Sustainability index Model (D-SiM). As public institutions and particularly HEIs are facing the challenges of bringing sustainability in their strategic planning and development, a quantitative assessment of sustainability can be very helpful. The D-SiM can be applied to any institution provided the indicators are selected based on the performance of that institution. In D-SiM, SI is an outcome of a multitude of nonlinear effects of sustainability indicators in various stages of DPSEEA. An empirical model based on 2k full factorial analysis indicates that economic development, social equity, and education are the major drivers for achieving sustainability in HEIs. -- As sustainability is generally regarded as a qualitative and elusive concept, it is proposed to use fuzzy multi-criteria decision-making in D-SiM for the quantitative assessment of sustainability. This uncertainly based D-SiM is referred as uncertainty-based DPSEEA-Sustainability index Model (uD-SiM), where each factor is defined using fuzzy numbers. Sensitivity analysis shows that the education in sustainability and global and local research trends are the major driving forces for achieving sustainability in HEIs. These are followed by financial and economic growth rate, social equity, energy requirements rate, and institutional enhancement. The results of uD-SiM are found to be more realistic than its deterministic counterpart D-SiM. -- After the development of uD-Sim, the model is used for ranking selected Canadian universities. A comparison of universities based on sustainability indicators related to environmental, economic, social and educational aspects is also carried out. The five Canadian Universities considered and evaluated using uD-SiM are the University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Toronto (UoT), University of Alberta (UoA), McGill, and Memorial University (MUN). The final ranking results are compared with the green report card ranking for 2010 through SI. It is found that the overall rankings of the UBC, UoA, and McGill by uD-SiM were quite similar to the Green report card’s ranking. The difference between uD-SiM ranking and Green report card could be attributed to the difference in selection of indicators for the two approaches. In Green report card, water use and education in sustainability are not considered whereas these two indicators play a significant role in the uD-SiM model. The application of various control actions and strategies for improving sustainability in HEIs at different stages of the frame work are also discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9872
Item ID: 9872
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 128-138).
Department(s): Engineering and Applied Science, Faculty of
Date: 2011
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Sustainability--Decision making; Sustainability--Mathematical models; Sustainable development; Universities and colleges--Environmental aspects--Canada.

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