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A strategic sustainability approach to frame the study

Society seeks to move the transport sector towards sustainability, but operational plans for how this shall be achieved, over and above reaching fossil fuel independence, are still missing. Planning for any societal system to develop towards sustainability includes many complicated tasks. To effectively deal with such considerations, there is a need for a framework with principles for sustainability that are universal for any sector as boundary conditions for redesign (i.e., covering all aspects of sustainability regardless of scale) and with guidelines for how any organization or sector can create economically feasible step-by-step transition plans to comply with the boundary conditions.

Such a framework should also be capable of informing all kinds of concepts, methods, and tools to make them cohesively functional to support this kind of systematic approach to sustainability. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development - FSSD (Broman and Robèrt, 2017), is designed for such purposes and has been successfully tested and used in municipalities, businesses, and sectors, including projects with the ambition to design plans for sustainable development of transport (Alvemo et al., 2010; Borén, 2011; Ny et al., 2017). One prominent example of such multi-stakeholder cooperation was the GreenCharge effort that used the FSSD to investigate how electric vehicle systems could contribute to a faster transition to sustainable passenger transport in Southeast Sweden. 

The FSSD’s sustainability principles are elaborated in a continuous scientific consensus process and designed to form a generic and still operational definition of sustainability to be useful for systematic planning and guidance of redesign of any system towards sustainability. The scientific consensus process aimed at developing such a definition started in Sweden in the early 1990s and has gone through several iterations of refinement since then. The latest development included refinement of social sustainability principles to the following definition of sustainability (Broman and Robèrt, 2017):

In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing ...

1. ... concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust;

2. ... concentrations of substances produced by society;

3. ... degradation by physical means;

and people are not subject to structural obstacles to ...

4. ... health;

5. ... influence;

6. ... competence;

7. ... impartiality;

8. ... meaning-making.

Practical application of the FSSD is facilitated by the so-called ABCD procedure:

A. In this step, participants discuss and learn about the FSSD and build a shared understanding of the big picture of the planning topic and envisioning how it could fit within the requirements of the Sustainability Principles

B. The current reality is assessed in relation to the sustainability vision created in A to identify major challenges and strengths in relation to the vision within the sustainability principles.

C. Informed by the results from A and B, participants brainstorm possible steps towards the vision, i.e., investments and measures that can serve as stepping-stones or final steps towards compliance with the sustainability-framed vision.

D. Participants then prioritize among the brainstormed proposals from C, resulting in a stepwise strategic plan.

Each step should

(i) provide a solid and flexible platform for forthcoming steps towards the sustainability vision in A, while striking a good balance between

(ii) pace towards the vision and

(iii) return on investment. A further discussion of this way of illustrating the business case for sustainability has been conducted by several authors (Broman and Robèrt, 2017; Holmberg and Robèrt, 2000; Willard, 2012).