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Water Science & Technology—WST Vol 61 No 6 pp 1637–1644 © IWA Publishing 2010 doi:10.2166/wst.2010.880

The use of qualitative system dynamics to identify sustainability characteristics of decentralized wastewater management alternatives

J. S. Guest, S. J. Skerlos, G. T. Daigger, J. R. E. Corbett and N. G. Love

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan, 2340 G. G. Brown Laboratory, 2350 Hayward Street, Ann Arbor MI 48109, USA E-mail: jsguest@umich.edu; nglove@umich.edu
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan, 2250 G. G. Brown Laboratory, 2350 Hayward Street, Ann Arbor MI 48109, USA E-mail: skerlos@umich.edu
CH2M HILL, 9191 South Jamaica Street, Englewood CO 80112, USA E-mail: gdaigger@ch2m.com
Associated Engineering Group Ltd., 300-4940 Canada Way, Burnaby BC V5G 4M5, Canada E-mail: corbettr@ae.ca


In order to pursue more sustainable alternatives in wastewater management, it is vital that we understand how a given infrastructure alternative will impact the various aspects of sustainability. A set of qualitative tools (force field diagrams and causal loop diagrams (CLDs)) for the assessment of wastewater management alternatives is proposed and demonstrated in the context of a decentralized wastewater infrastructure upgrade. The objective for the application of these tools is to improve decision makers' understanding of how a given alternative will impact the economic, environmental/ecological, social, and functional aspects of sustainability. In the proposed method, each aspect of sustainability is treated as a stock, and its movement (up or down) can be inferred using both qualitative and quantitative data. By incorporating these tools into a participatory planning process, project-specific CLDs can be developed and loops of interest can be identified to help elucidate stakeholder values. The ultimate goal of this methodology is to facilitate the pursuit of sustainability in wastewater management by allowing decision makers to address specific sustainability challenges without creating new ones.

Keywords: decentralized sanitation infrastructure; planning and design; sustainability metrics; triple bottom line; wastewater treatment

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