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The initial CapSEM-project, Capacity building in Sustainability and Environmental Management, was co-funded by the Erasmus+ Program of the European Union and has been conducted from October 2016 through October 2019. Read the report Capacity building in sustainability and environmental management (pdf).
The CapSEM model (Capacity Building in Sustainability and Environmental Management model) is a stepwise model of methods for improving business sustainability.
The tools referred to in this model span both quantitative and qualitative methods; from Input-Output analysis and life cycle assessment (LCA), to corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies, material flow analysis (MFA), Industrial Ecology (IE), and Systems Engineering (SE) principles.
For the majority of the tools and methods, the focus is on monitoring environmental aspects, especially in Levels 1 and 2.
As one moves toward Levels 3, and especially 4, more complete sustainability aspects are considered – mandating the inclusion of social aspects. It is important to see the model as a transitionary process where environmental management strategies become more holistic and complete towards triple-bottom-line sustainability as tools at each level build upon each other.
The waves between levels demonstrate how the methods build upon each other. Each wave increases the number of environmental and social aspects managed and stakeholder needs incorporated into a firm’s strategy. As a firm moves from one wave to the next, they advance toward a higher level of sustainability maturity and a broader inclusion of stakeholders.
The four-level model can be regarded as the backbone of many roadmaps and standards for strategic and systemic innovation and implementation, and as a foundation for business decisions at different systems levels.
Report: "Verktøy for miljøfotavtrykk" - (Report in norwegian: Rapporten viser en oversikt over verktøy for å kartlegge miljøfotavtrykk på ulike systemnivåer (se pdf). Rapporten er utarbeidet for iKubens medlemmer og er levert av Møreforsking i 2020.
The boxes below provide more information on the methods and tools within each level:
Level 1 tools target processes and identify potential improvements through Input-Output analyses (I/O). On this level, efforts are usually driven by economic incentives since better resource efficiency can equate to economic gain. This is also the core of Cleaner Production (CP) principles where source reduction, ‘getting more from less,’ is the focus rather than end-of-pipe solutions.
Level 2 tools focus on sustainability improvement for products and their value chains.
The most recognized tool for mapping the potential improvements of a product’s sustainability footprint is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This tool quantifies material flows across the entire life cycle of the product, from ‘cradle to grave.’ The results from the analyses are classified into several environmental impact categories such as global warming potential, acidification potential, and eutrophication potential.
Based upon a set of weighted criteria, the results can be applied within Supply Chain Management (SCM) to set requirements upstream in the supply chain. Examples could be to replace material with a high impact factor to one with less environmental impact, or to change transport means that contribute to high greenhouse gas emissions.
Results from an LCA can further be used to document the footprint of the product across all environmental criteria, e.g. through Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), or on selected criteria, e.g. quantified Carbon Footprints of the Product (CFP). By applying principles of Design for the Environment (DFE), great achievements can be made, also for the end of life treatment of the products where materiel can be separated into their recycling loops (design for dismantling-principle).
Similar to Level 1, quantitative information contributes to an understanding of how to shift to more sustainable material and design of products. Cleaner Production principles can also be applied on the product level.
Level 3 tools are concerned with an organization’s management of its sustainability challenges through, for example, the implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS). The Environmental Lighthouse Program or an EMS in accordance to ISO 14001 standards are the most common certification schemes.
Small and medium sized companies are often recommended to use their Health Safety and Environment (HSE) program as the first approach to EMS implementation. Other companies may only want to set up an environmental account of aspects and impacts for the purpose of internal benchmarking and for an inhouse Environmental Performance Evaluation (EPE), using Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for reporting purposes.
For larger corporations, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is often used to evaluate performance against international branch standards. A wider focus through Life Cycle Management (LCM), and Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) are other approaches to an organization’s sustainability management, and can help a firm translate its business model into one with sustainability as a core value – a Sustainable Business Model (SBM). CSR embraces the triple bottom line of sustainability and is one approach to stakeholder engagement. Through these mechanisms, a company will become aware of their sustainability performance, and will learn how to monitor and present it according to international standards and systems.
The highest level in the model, Level 4, represents tools that facilitate a systemic focus. It should be noted that Levels 1–3 deal mainly with the environmental aspects of a process, product, value chain or organization. As the stepwise model moves towards greater sustainability, it is in Level 4, and the higher degrees of Level 3, that the incorporation of stakeholders is most prevalent.
Stakeholder involvement is an essential aspect of sustainable and inclusive growth but can also be one of the greatest challenges in introducing holistic sustainability solutions. Local stakeholder needs and traditions must be incorporated for acceptance and uptake. Apart from technical aspects, a contextualized understanding of cultural settings is vital for the planning, design and operation of sustainable systems, or resistance will be met. Solving technical aspects is therefore only part of the puzzle and collaboration is essential for both developing and implementing holistic sustainability knowledge. Understanding cultural settings is equally important in planning, design and operation of systems thinking.
Material Flow Analysis (MFA) is viewed as an analytical method rooted in the field of Industrial Ecology (IE) and Systems Engineering (SE). MFA is applied widely for the systemic assessment of flow and stock of a material or substance within a given system. MFA is regarded as an efficient IE tool for application on different system levels. The IE is about constructing industrial and societal processes according to ecological principles, most often seen as the principles of circular economy. One of the main features within IE is the principle of closing the material loops by avoiding polluting material to end up in nature. In a lower level, e.g. level1, MFA is used to map resource use, energy, water consumption, emissions and waste generation.
Additionally, principles of IE can be embedded into a SE framework according to the six-step methodology, a) Identify needs, b) Define requirements, c) Specify performance, d) Analyze and optimize, e) Design, solve and improve, and f) Verify and test. Steps a) and b) are described in accordance with Levels 1–4, in c) and d) company performance can then be quantified by means of the suggested tools for the level, then impacts and potential solutions can be further analyzed and optimized. When a solution is selected in e), it should be further evaluated according to the needs and requirements outlined in a) and b) and of stakeholders needs. Such methodology can be performed in several cycles until the best improvement is achieved.