Large organisations play an important role in helping the society to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of climate change and reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources and as a result, they face an increasing pressure from governments and non-governmental organisations to report on and account for the sustainability of their actions. The complexity of the problem has led to the development of a first generation of environmental sustainability management systems.These systems help organisations to collate large volume of data concerning a range of sustainability indicators related notably to energy, travel, waste and water, convert it to standard formats, and report on organisation’s carbon dioxide and financial performance.
Beyond simple reporting, however, the systems are not particularly good at helping to find the most effective actions that should be taken to address the risks associated with climate change and rising utilities’ cost. The problem is hard because it involves tradeoffs between multiple long- and short-term objectives that must be made under strong budgetary constraints, uncertainties about the future evolution of many system variables, and sometimes simply the lack of understanding of what the actual objectives and the potential impacts of various decisions on such objectives are.
The design of the current, first generation of sustainability management systems is largely data-centric – it focuses on data collection and reporting, mainly to satisfy new regulations related to the reporting and trading of CO2 emissions. Implementing these systems help organisations to make significant reductions in energy use and carbon emissions in the first few years. Further improvements, however, are much harder to accomplish once the first objectives have been achieved.
Aims and Methods
Our research objective is to develop fundamental techniques to help organisations make more effective and better informed decisions for achieving their sustainability objectives. Our approach is to use a goal-oriented and decision-centric perspective drawn from research in systems requirements engineering.
Our design process starts from considering the system’s stakeholders, their goals, and the organisation-specific sustainability objectives they wish to achieve. Goal-oriented requirements elaboration method provides systematic techniques to refine goals into subgoals, manage conflicts between goals, identify and resolve obstacles to the satisfaction of goals, and explore and evaluate alternative options for goal satisfaction. The information needs of decision makers and the requirements for the data collection processes would therefore be derived from the organisation’s sustainability goals and the context in which sustainability decisions are taken. The method would also provide means for reasoning about obstacles to various sustainability goals and conflicts between sustainability goals and other organisation’s objectives.
Managing change is another important concern of these systems. These include changes in legislation, changing objectives and evolving definitions of sustainability indicators, continuous changes in the organisation’s structure, processes and data formats, and changing attitudes of people towards the system. We hope to facilitate the system adaptations and evolutions so that it remains fit for purpose as the context changes by making the sustainability goals central abstractions from which other lower-level concerns are derived.To view project, click here