Sustainability is the ability to positively balance economical, environmental and social aspects, such as: economic efficiency and productivity; environmental burdens; working conditions; population health and security; human rights; etc. It can be assessed in different but interconnected scales: the world; a country, region or city; or an organization or particular system. Beyond the boundary definition, decision-making towards sustainability must be based on the identification and comprehension of the complexity of factors, actors, interests, constraints and relations involved, as well as the cause-and-effects chains for each possible action or decision.

This way, assessing a complex social problem as sustainability requires a set of resourceful supporting tools. Traditionally, analysts have applied the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology, by modelling a system, its processes and flows of resources, and then assessing their potential environmental, social and economic impacts in different categories. However, LCA itself is not enough to address the complexity of sustainability assessment, as it does not enable to: explore, compare and represent the different actors' perspectives of a problem situation; elicit potential systems to be modelled, each positioned within a chain or a hierarchy of interconnected systems; and lead decision makers to understanding and commitment. By the other hand, LCA is also not sufficient to analyse its quantitative results, providing a comparison of the possible options in terms of a number of criteria (or impacts categories). A more complete quantitative analysis should allow to: measure the relative efficiency of each option; and identify the most well-performed ones; the crucial factors which determine their good or bad efficiencies; their targets for a best performance; and benchmarks for each system.

All those desirable methodological features can be found in some Operational Research tools. In this field, a modern approach is called 'Multimethodology', where a number of tools are combined and applied together in order to support decisions for diverse problem situations. This way, PSIGMA has been working and developing methodological connections between Problem Structuring Methods (PSMs), Multicriterial Decision Analysis (MCDA), other quantitative methods, and the aforementioned Life Cycle Analysis. Particularly, we have applied this multimethodological approach to assess sustainability in Brazilian solid waste management and reverse logistics systems.


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