A Framework for Development and Communication of Absolute Environmental Sustainability Assessment Methods: ASEA Method Framework

Anders Bjørn*, Katherine Richardson, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


An absolute environmental sustainability assessment (AESA) addresses whether a production or consumption activity can be considered environmentally sustainable in an absolute sense. This involves a comparison of its environmental pressure to its allocated environmental carrying capacity. AESA methods have been developed in multiple academic fields, each using their own set of concepts and terms with little communication across the fields. A recent growing interest in using AESA methods for decision support calls for a better common understanding of the constituents of an AESA method and how it can be communicated to scientific peers and to potential users.

With this aim, we develop a framework for AESA methods, composed of a succession of four assessment steps and involving six methodological choices that must be made by the method developer or the user. We then use the framework to analyze and compare five selected AESA methods that focus on the release of phosphorus and nitrogen to the environment. In this manner, we show that the framework is able to systematically differentiate AESA methods that initially appear to be similar. Intended users of the framework include (1) method developers communicating new AESA methods to academic peers or potential method users and (2) researchers comparing a group of existing AESA methods and communicating their differences to their peers and to potential users looking for guidance on method selection.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)838-854
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Carrying capacity
  • Context-based sustainability
  • Nitrogen emission
  • Phosphorus emission
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Science-based targets

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