Sustainability Tools of the Trade: A Review of Research

Mention the notion of a tool that will help crunch numbers, compare alternatives, or support decisions and generally you’ll find lots of interest.Who doesn’t want tools to make our work easier and more effective?

Just like tools for, say, analyzing financial impacts or designing a building, we’ve seen a proliferation of sustainability tools over the past decade – along with growing interest in applying them in a variety of settings.  Over the first half of 2014, Brendle Group has been working with multiple clients to sort through and test the myriad tools now available to support sustainability decisions.

Portland State University Triple Bottom Line Tool

While what constitutes a “sustainability tool” is certainly open for interpretation, we’ve identified over 70 tools that help support various aspects of sustainability from highly specialized analyses of, say, community health to broad tools that help integrate the triple bottom line into decision-making. These tools run the gamut from being highly qualitative to employing a rigorous scoring or rating system. Many are web-based or use a platform like Excel, while others are simple checklists.  Several are highly specialized for specific projects or sectors – from topics like infrastructure and community planning to resource protection and economic development.

As we’ve reviewed these tools for our clients, it’s become clear that no tool is perfect, and in some cases multiple tools may be needed to support decision-making. What’s more, tools themselves won’t make decisions for you – that will still come down to rich dialogue, navigating politics, and other real-world factors. But what these tools can do is help foster systems thinking; apply replicable methodologies to analyses; and ultimately help better integrate sustainability into your projects, programs, and plans.

Here’s just a small sampling of sustainability tools we’ve found:

Portland State University Triple Bottom Line Tool

Eugene, Oregon’s Triple Bottom Line Tool

Southwestern Pennsylvania Sustainability Assessment Tool

UK Ministry of Defense Sustainability Appraisal Tool

Urban Sustainability Directors Network Triple Bottom Line Calculator