The Different Aspects of the Concept of “Efficiency” Explored in EUFORIE

To generate diversity and following the triangulation approach to generate the multi-dimensional information space necessary to reflect the complexity of social-ecological systems, EUFORIE combines four different approaches adopted by the different partners:

University of Turku, FFRC (Advanced Sustainability Analysis, decomposition, LINDA scenarios)

The approach generates assessments based on a decomposition analysis of input/output ratios. The Advanced Sustainability Analysis method looks at the characteristics of the whole system, but it is also capable of looking inside the whole at the different factors that are determining the overall characteristics. An important aspect of this analysis is that it integrates the standard approach used in econometric analysis (it establishes a bridge between biophysical and economic analysis), providing additional insights complementing conventional trend analysis. At the same time, the possibility of decomposing the assessments across different scales establishes a bridge with the other methods used in EUFORIE looking at the different relevant aspects of “efficiency” on different levels and dimensions of analysis.

Parthenope University of Naples (Modelling LCA, EMA, EXA, SUMMA)

The approach generates assessments based on a suite of quantitative indicators reflecting the adoption of specific protocols of accounting. Standard methods of quantitative analysis include: Energy analysis; exergy analysis; eMergy analysis; Material Flow Accounting; Environmental Impact Assessment; and Life Cycle Assessment. This approach provides the information required by a multicriteria analysis, generating a set of indicators that can be chosen “à la carte” depending on the research question. Considering that each method has been designed to provide ap-propriate answers to specific questions on a well-defined scale, their combination enables the investigator to assess the weaknesses and strengths of each answer generated thanks to the possibility of looking from different perspectives. Thus integrating these methods does not mean creating a standardised super-approach, but increases the richness of the analysis.

Universitat Autonoma Barcelona, ICTA (MuSIASEM ─ Multi-Scale Assessment Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism)

The approach generates assessments based on an analysis of the metabolic pattern of social-ecological systems. The Multi-Scale Assessment Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism looks at the characteristics of the whole system, but at the same time it identifies its structural functional elements and their interlinkages across different levels of organization. This analysis makes it possible to look at: (i) the desirability of the state of the social system – looking at the characteristics of its structural and functional elements; (ii) the viability of the state of the social system – looking at the economic and technical viability of the processes under human control; and (iii)
the feasibility of the state-pressure interaction of the society and its embedding ecosystems – considering the constraints imposed by processes outside human control; and (iv) the level of openness of the system – looking at the effect of “externalization” (outsourcing) determined by the terms of trade. This approach gives useful information in relation to biophysical analysis and in particular on the dynamic interface exchanging flows between socio-economic process and ecological processes.

Sustainable European Research Institute, Germany (Socio-economic analysis of policies based on pluralism of points of view ─ Sufficiency)

The approach generates assessments based on a socio-economic analysis of policies on different levels (households, countries, EU), based on the acceptance of pluralism and multi-scale awareness. Particularly important in relation to the critical appraisal of the use of the concept of efficiency for policy is the introduction of the concept of “sufficiency”. As the concept of efficiency is a relative one referring to a given ratio of selected parameters in a given process, it lacks an “anchoring point” in social desirability and environmental affordability. For instance, while we can study the efficiency of heating a given living space to a predefined temperature, this analysis offers no information regarding the macro-level low temperature heat demand as long as the average living space continue to increase. It is only after having defined a benchmark of “sufficiency” in relation to the expected and needed performance of a system that we can deliberate about pros and cons of increasing or decreasing the level of output (in this case the room temperature) in order to improve the efficiency. This approach is essential if we want to use the quantitative information about the performance of energy systems for governance.

Obviously, it is not possible to make these different approaches collapse into one approach dealing with all sustainability issues across different levels (firms, cities, countries, economic macro-regions) and dimensions. Instead, we are offering a tool box: depending on the research ques-tion scholars (often on demand by decision makers) can combine these approaches in order to generate the required set of integrated and thus relevant information. The inner logic and the linking over the WPs carrying out activity of research in EUFORIE is provided in the scheme in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The inner logic and the linking over the Work Packages in the EUFORIE project.