The traditional process of single-issue decision-making based solely on short-term economic outcomes has not everywhere led to positive results. Increasingly, scarce public funds have to be diverted to expensive clean-up efforts to address the consequences of past decisions that neglected environmental and health impacts of investment decisions. As a result, environmental risk assessment and other tools have been devised to provide more precise predictions of various non-economic consequences of decision-making, allowing a more informed set of choices to be made. But despite the availability of such tools a systematic and effective consideration of life-cycle impacts of projects, products and processes is still absent in many regional decision-making processes.
This is at a time when the principle of incorporating the three dimensions of the sustainable development process in public policy has become almost universally accepted with municipal authorities around the world adopting Local Agenda 21 programmes. It is still difficult to translate policy into effective action on the ground, especially at the regional and local levels. It is not always clear to administrators and politicians how to achieve the simultaneous optimisation of several dimensions at the same time, nor how to fulfil short-term and long-term sustainability objectives simultaneously.
Recent advances in the use life-cycle management tools in particular by multinational companies but also by public administrations, like the French Government and the European Commission, especially in the form of environmental footprinting, make it easier for regional governments and related actors to promote the application of holistic policies by the relevant administrations and local businesses, to foster innovation and to consider wider and longer-term aspects of their actions.
With acceleration of technological development and adoption and greater market competition, innovation has become prerequisite for enterprise survival at the regional level. There is an important role for regional decision-makers at the public and private level to take action to ensure that the innovation that is currently incubated is sustainable. In this way sustainable innovation and regional development go hand in hand. In this context, sharing the latest knowledge on life cycle approaches helps to promote sustainable innovation, thus enhancing economic, technological and regional development through new economic, more sustainable activities that stimulate wealth, employment and growth generation and increase competitiveness.
There are many ways to commence the process. One important element of a life-cycle approach is the consideration of the local, regional and global supply-chain of different products, and then transposing this concept into ‘sustainable’ procurement by public bodies and businesses. Purchasing of ‘green’ and ‘local made’ products by ordinary citizens is already a significant feature of our society and contributes to the fact that sustainability has become a megatrend.
For regional and municipal authorities, the grouping of businesses into eco-parks, the adoption of advanced resource management and recycling programmes, and supply of sustainable infrastructure (transport, energy, water) are additional policy issues where a life-cycle view of the issues improves the sustainability of the outcomes.
Other tools are available for improving project design, more efficient resource management, effective environment and health protection, and use of renewable energy and other resources. It remains to explore and adapt the best tools and procedures in each case.
The third edition of the summer school aims to give an overview of the latest life-cycle methodologies, which are continually refined and evolve further within the life-cycle community, and to explore the use of the most appropriate life-cycle approaches and tools accessible to regional administrators and planners and other public actors and in particular industry associations and companies at the regional level.