Navigating the social dimension of sustainability decision making of mega-projects

Phelan, Anna & Dawes, Les (2013) Navigating the social dimension of sustainability decision making of mega-projects. In Kajewski, Stephen L., Manley, Karen, & Hampson, Keith (Eds.) Proceedings of the 19th CIB World Building Congress, Brisbane 2013, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Brisbane, QLD.

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Until recently, sustainable development was perceived as essentially an environmental issue, relating to the integration of environmental concerns into economic decision-making. As a result, environmental considerations have been the primary focus of sustainability decision making during the economic development process for major projects, and the assessment and preservation of social and cultural systems has been arguably too limited. The practice of social impact and sustainability assessment is an established and accepted part of project planning, however, these practices are not aimed at delivering sustainability outcomes for social systems, rather they are designed to minimise ‘unsustainability’ and contribute to project approval. Currently, there exists no widely recognised standard approach for assessing social sustainability and accounting for positive externalities of existing social systems in project decision making. As a result, very different approaches are applied around the world, and even by the same organisations from one project to another. This situation is an impediment not only to generating a shared understanding of the social implications as related to major projects, but more importantly, to identifying common approaches to help improve social sustainability outcomes of proposed activities.

This paper discusses the social dimension of sustainability decision making of mega-projects, and argues that to improve accountability and transparency of project outcomes it is important to understand the characteristics that make some communities more vulnerable than others to mega-project development. This paper highlights issues with current operational level approaches to social sustainability assessment at the project level, and asserts that the starting point for project planning and sustainability decision making of mega-projects needs to include the preservation, maintenance, and enhancement of existing social and cultural systems. It draws attention to the need for a scoping mechanism to systematically assess community vulnerability (or sensitivity) to major infrastructure development during the feasibility and planning stages of a project.

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ID Code: 70465
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: mega-projects, social systems, sustainability decision making, community vulnerability
ISBN: 9780987554215
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (050000) > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT (050200) > Environmental Management (050205)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Civil Engineering & Built Environment
Current > Schools > School of Earth, Environmental & Biological Sciences
Current > Institutes > Institute for Future Environments
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 The authors and/or their employers
Deposited On: 24 Apr 2014 02:15
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2014 23:09

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