Sustainability Compass: Essential Tool for Sustainable Development


Sustainable development is regarded as a promising solution to current global problems including global warming and climate change. To achieve sustainability goals, characterization and quantification of sustainability criteria, e.g. environmental, economic, and social aspects, are highly desirable. This will enable us to track the changes, compare different alternatives, and communicate more effectively. Energy systems were considered in this study and essential sustainability criteria and indicators, depending on the type, scale, and scope were identified to assess and compare performance of each system alternative. The information obtained is useful in identifying suitable development paths ways. It is also used by stakeholders and policymakers in making well-informed decisions.

Sustainability of any engineered system involves two main aspects: efficiency and resilience. The former ensures efficient design to ensure minimal environmental and cost impacts during normal operations while the latter describes its ability to transform and adapt to various shocks induced either naturally or artificially. These attributes are, however, conflicting especially in the design, operation and management of resilient energy systems. This is attributed to the increase in the complexity of infrastructural systems and severe impact of global climate change. Therefore, inclusion of resilience and social dimensions of energy systems in the sustainability assessment at both national and local levels will be of great importance in developing sustainability analysis framework.

Recently, Dr. Salim Moslehi and Professor Agami Reddy from Arizona State University developed a life cycle sustainability assessment framework for energy systems. Fundamentally, this represents an extension of the Energy Use Intensity metric that focuses on the use of three-performance based indices. The framework consists of specific sustainability indices that revolve around normal conditions and the system resilience characterized by functional losses due to component failures during the system’s lifecycle. Their main objective was to develop a Sustainability Compass diagram for illustrating the systems attributes and the emerging trade-offs thus allowing effective comparison and decision analysis. The work is currently published in the journal, Applied Energy.

Salim Moslehi and Agami Reddy successfully used the proposed framework to translate the sustainability goals into real-life practices such as the design of new systems, performance assessment, scheduling, operation, and future planning. In particular, the Sustainability Compass provided essential information that enabled tracking the direction and magnitude of the changes in the individual sustainability indices thus providing a suitable platform for well-informed decision making and information sharing.

To illustrate the usefulness of the proposed framework, integrated energy system of a university campus was analyzed from various sustainability and resilience perspectives. In this regard, five alternative energy development strategies with different renewable energy penetration levels were evaluated. Sustainability performance of each scenario was quantified through sustainability and resilience indices which were mapped on the Sustainability Compass clearly demonstrating the trade-offs to support more informed decisions. Such insight is critical when decision-makers and system stakeholders try to identify sustainable solutions to complicated problems.


Moslehi, S., & Reddy, T. (2019). A new quantitative life cycle sustainability assessment framework: Application to integrated energy systems. Applied Energy, 239, 482-493.

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