Method selection for sustainability assessments: The case of recovery of resources from waste water

M.C. Zijp, S. L. Waaijers-van der Loop, R. Heijungs, S.M.L. Broeren, R. Peeters, Jakko A Nieuwenhuijzen, L. Shen, E. H W Heugens, L. Posthuma

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Sustainability assessments provide scientific support in decision procedures towards sustainable solutions. However, in order to contribute in identifying and choosing sustainable solutions, the sustainability assessment has to fit the decision context. Two complicating factors exist. First, different stakeholders tend to have different views on what a sustainability assessment should encompass. Second, a plethora of sustainability assessment methods exist, due to the multi-dimensional characteristic of the concept. Different methods provide other representations of sustainability. Based on a literature review, we present a protocol to facilitate method selection together with stakeholders. The protocol guides the exploration of i) the decision context, ii) the different views of stakeholders and iii) the selection of pertinent assessment methods. In addition, we present an online tool for method selection. This tool identifies assessment methods that meet the specifications obtained with the protocol, and currently contains characteristics of 30 sustainability assessment methods. The utility of the protocol and the tool are tested in a case study on the recovery of resources from domestic waste water. In several iterations, a combination of methods was selected, followed by execution of the selected sustainability assessment methods. The assessment results can be used in the first phase of the decision procedure that leads to a strategic choice for sustainable resource recovery from waste water in the Netherlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date6 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2017


This work was funded by RIVM's strategic research program, run under the auspices of the Director-General of RIVM and RIVM's Scientific Advisory Board, under the projects Measurably Sustainable S/607020 and SafeBBE S/124001. We thank the members of the ERF that contributed to the workshops, the experts that contributed to the expert elicitation and Jeroen Devilee and Mark Huijbregts for their comments on draft versions of this manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en MilieuSafeBBE S/124001
European Refugee Fund


    • Circular economy
    • Method selection
    • Resources
    • Sustainability assessment
    • Waste water


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