Eco-efficiency guiding micro-level actions towards sustainability: Ten basic steps for analysis
This paper looks at the compatibility between technological improvements at the micro-level and sustainability at the macro-level. The two main approaches to prevent environmental degradation are technological improvement and economic degrowth. How do we establish the sustainability of technological options? LCA-type analysis of the technology system, combined with economic cost analysis, offers a first integrated eco-efficiency score. However, such a technology analysis focuses on micro-level technology relations only, is usually too optimistic and ignores other constraints implied in a choice. Fitting more comprehensive knowledge into the sustainability evaluation of options requires a unifying systematic framework, which is worked out in the present paper as a ten-step procedure. The integrative framework for empirical analysis is ultimately a comparative-static systems analysis at macro-level, not in a deterministic dynamic mode, which is impossible, but as a knowledge-fed scenario analysis. The analysis shows the change in society's overall eco-efficiency, combining total value creation with total environmental impacts. Possible domains of application include not only technology choices like those in eco-innovation, including changed consumption styles and volumes, but also changes in policies regarding technologies and markets, whether direct policy shifts or indirect changes through institutional adaptations. Ultimately, such a framework also allows culturally framed questions about the type of society we would like to live in, to be analysed in terms of their economic and environmental consequences.
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