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Sustainability Explained

Integrated Environment-Human Uncertainty Analysis


The environment is a complex system with multiple feedback loops between numerous local ecosystems connected through global carbon and nitrogen cycles, an integrated water system, energy balances, the nutrient cycle and climate change. Despite many advances in biological, ecological and physical sciences, there is still a lot of uncertainty with regard to the impacts of human activities on the environment. For example, is local produced food more or less environmentally friendly than organic products flown in from other regions? Is plastic, glass or paper packaging better or worse for the environment or is it better not to package at all? These uncertainties are often translated into error bars or statistical indices like standard deviation, variation or distributions to help decision makers construct their policies and strategies.

However, environmental uncertainty is not the only uncertainty that should be considered. Often, it is the human dimension that introduces the highest uncertainty into these environmental assessments. For example, the environmental assessment of local versus organically produced food depends on whether people actually buy the food, how much of the food is thrown away at home or whether it is freezed or stays in the refrigerator. Integrated Environmental Human Uncertainty Analysis (INEMA) is a method that considers both environmental and human uncertainty within evaluations of policies, strategies and activities. It creates visible trade-offs and informs decision makers about the underlying assumptions of environmental assessment models. It can be used to broaden the decision makers' perspective and to break down uncertainty into understandable, coherent information sets.

User examples

1. Measuring the environmental impacts of budget airlines versus traditional airlines in Europe.