Prosuite | Sustainability Assessment for Technology

The Prosuite consortium developed a methodology for sustainability assessment of new technologies following a life cycle assessment based approach. In December 2013, the PROSUITE handbook will be will published on the Pré website.
Prosuite makes sustainability assessment of technologies possible

October 30, 2013, the project conference took place in Brussels for communication of final results. The PROSUITE handbook will be published in December. 

Need for sustainability assessment of new technologies

Technologies have always been the engine of progress and change are being developed continuously. In the last decades many new technologies have drastically changed our lives, and some have been controversial in terms of the net benefit they bring to society. The challenge is to know upfront how sustainable new technologies will be. There is a general awareness that there is a need to carefully assess the expected impact of the introduction of new technologies. The Prosuite (PROspective SUstaInability Assessment TEchnologies) project was set up to tackle this challenge. In this project researchers across Europe aimed to develop and apply a coherent framework for the sustainability assessment of technologies. This framework strives to support decisions concerning new and existing products, services and technologies, and for conducting retrospective as well as prospective assessments.

Prosuite as an integrated sustainability metrics system

The Prosuite consortium developed a sustainability assessment methodology that follows a life cycle assessment (LCA) based approach. Prosuite encompasses all aspects of sustainability by measuring impacts on five pillars: natural environment, social well-being, exhaustible resources, human health, and prosperity. The impact on each of the five pillars is measured and then aggregated into a single score. The methodology is currently being incorporated into a Decision Support Software (DSS) to simplify its implementation. PRé Consultants is involved in the development of the methodology for social well-being, the DSS, and the dissemination of the project.

What is it novel about Prosuite

The innovative perspective of Prosuite is its five pillar approach. Sustainability is often defined through social, environmental, and economic dimensions, generally referred to as people-planet-profit.  However, there are overlaps within these three pillars. Human health and income could for instance be included in the social pillar, since both factors have a large influence on people’s quality of life. Prosuite developed a five pillar framework to avoid this overlap, which ensures that each pillar has a unique set of indicators.

Secondly, the limiting factor of many sustainability assessment methodologies is that there is no explicit definition of the cause-effect chain and no scientific nor transparent calculation methodology. Prosuite worked to develop a scientifically robust and reproducible framework along the cause-effect chain. They examined damage scores, assessing trade-offs between different phases in the life cycle and different impacts in an overarching and comprehensive way. The main focus was on the development of robust contributors and impacts for each of the five pillars. Each of the contributors can be calculated in an objective and quantifiable way, in order to avoid subjective judgements.

The prosuite Concept: A novel methodology for the sustainability assessment of new technologies

Prosuite’s outcome and further research needs

The overall framework has been tested for several technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, mobile devices, and nanotechnology. In general the framework was found to be useful in highlighting various sustainability aspects.  The method enables assessment of the five impacts on a life cycle basis for the assessed technology — and across the full cause-effect chain. There are not yet any full methodologies available for any of the five pillars of impact categories identified here. They are most well established for human health and prosperity, modestly established for impacts on the natural environment and exhaustible resources, and still in an early stage of development for impacts on social well-being. The five pillars form a comprehensive set, which could serve as a good basis for overall sustainability assessment. Future work could focus on further development of the impact assessment methodologies for natural environment, natural resources, and social well-being.

For more information about PROSUITE, please contact Anne, or send us a message.

Anne Gaasbeek

Anne worked for PRé from 2012 to 2021. As a Senior Consultant and excellent program manager with a hands-on background in sustainability metrics, she helped a wide range of organizations, including SMEs, multinationals and policy-makers. By focusing on the user perspective, Anne helped develop better tools for both technical and non-technical users. Her areas of expertise include product social footprinting, impact measurement and valuation, measuring supply chain sustainability and sustainable business performance.

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