Green growth and sustainable development

Guidance on Sustainability Impact Assessment



Number of pages: 35

This document offers a general introduction to sustainable impact assessment (SIA). SIA is an approach for exploring the combined economic, environmental and social impacts of a range of proposed policies, programmes, strategies and action plans. Such assessments can also assist decision making and strategic planning throughout the entire policy cycle.


Government authorities at different levels (national, regional, local) can use this document as the basis for developing a more tailored guide for reviewing the sustainability impacts of proposed policies and action plans.


Guidance on Sustainability Impact Assessment (PDF), 2010

Sustainability impact assessment: an introduction


The document is aimed at helping policy makers to increase their understanding of the basic elements, processes and multi-dimensional nature of SIAs. It intends to increase awareness of the potential of SIA for developing more sustainable policies, strategies and action plans within OECD member countries. It is hoped that it will stimulate policy makers to implement or revisit their SIAs within their own policy and institutional context.


The document gives a general outline of what an SIA is, why it is useful, its core principles and methodologies, and its main challenges. It is not exhaustive, and neither is it a technical “how to” guide for practitioners to follow when implementing an SIA.

The steps involved in a typical SIA are illustrated with actual examples of methodologies used by several OECD member countries and other institutions. These examples show only some of the various possibilities and methodologies available and in use.

The examples used in this document are based on the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social. However, visions of sustainable development are evolving, particularly when governments strive to establish sustainable development strategies and wish to fully integrate sustainability in all policy development. Some countries adopt a more integrated approach that goes beyond the idea of the three pillars and encompasses systemic and systematic sustainable development goals for policy development (in line with, for instance, Agenda 21 adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – the Earth Summit). Chapter 1. Sustainability impact assessment: an introduction.


Sequence of steps in sustainability impact assessments

(taken from publication)


Relevance analysis

Step 1. Screening the proposal

Quick scan of a policy proposal to identify significant conflicts across economic, environmental and social dimensions warranting a sustainability impact assessment

Step 2. Scoping the assessment 

Specification of the depth and extent of the assessment as proportionate to the importance of the proposal and the potential impacts


Step 3. Selecting tools or methodologies to match the scoping

Selection of the most appropriate tools and methods for the different stages of the sustainability impact assessment

Step 4. Ensuring stakeholder participation

Involvement of stakeholders through various means in different stages of the sustainability impact assessment

Impact analysis

Step 5. Analysing the economic, environmental and social impacts 

Assessment of the economic, environmental and social impacts of the policy proposal

Step 6. Identifying synergies, conflicts and trade-offs across these impacts 

Identification of the synergies, conflicts and trade-offs across identified economic, environmental and social impacts 


Step 7. Proposing mitigating measures to optimise positive outcomes 

Enumeration of modifications or supplemental measures to better balance economic, environmental and social concerns

Step 8. Presenting the results and options to policy makers 

Presentation of results of sustainability impact assessment to policy makers, including trade-offs, mitigating measures and options

Source: Adapted from ARE (Swiss Federal Office for Spatial Development) (2004), Sustainability Assessment: Conceptual Framework and Basic Methodology, Swiss Federal Office for Spatial Development, Berne.


Also read: Chapter 10. Implementing sustainable impact assessments 




Relevant Links


Many countries utilise different types of impact assessments (e.g., regulatory impact analysis, competition assessment, environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, poverty impact assessment, trade impact assessment, integrated impact assessment, etc.), and related assessment methodologies, (e.g., social-accounting and input-output matrix, cost-benefit analysis, modelling, forecasting and back casting, including regulatory, environmental, trade, etc). These approaches are used to evaluate a proposed policy, programme or project by assessing its impacts on selected factors. Below are links to some examples of assessment processes which incorporate one or more dimensions of sustainable development, as well as links to other relevant work.


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