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Title: Normalization in sustainability assessment: Methods and implications

One approach to assessing progress towards sustainability makes use of diverse indicators spanning the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of the system being studied. Given the use of multiple indicators and the inherent complexity entailed in interpreting several metrics, aggregation of sustainability indicators is a common step after indicator measures are quantified. Diverse indicators have different units of measurement, and normalization is the procedure employed to transform differing indicator measures onto similar scales or to unit-free measures. It is often difficult for stakeholders to make clear connections between specific indicator measurements and resulting aggregate scores of sustainability. Normalization can also create implicit weightings of indicator measures that are independent of actual stakeholder preference or explicit weighting. This paper explores normalization methods utilized in sustainability assessment including ratio normalization, target normalization, Z-score normalization, and unit equivalence normalization. A mathematical analysis of the impact of changes in raw indicator data measurements on an aggregate sustainability score is developed. Theoretical results are clarified through a case study of data used in assessment of progress towards bioenergy sustainability. Advantages and drawbacks associated with different normalization schemes are discussed within the context of sustainability assessment.
 [1] ;  [2]
  1. Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN (United States). Dept. of Mathematics
  2. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States). Center for BioEnergy Sustainability, Environmental Sciences Division
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
AC05-00OR22725; 2011-68005-30410
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Ecological Economics
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 130; Journal Issue: C; Journal ID: ISSN 0921-8009
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Bioenergy Technologies Office (EE-3B); USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Country of Publication:
United States
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; Aggregation; Bioenergy sustainability; Composite indicator; Multi-criteria assessment; Normalization; Sustainability assessment; Standardization
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1359019