From the 4th to 6th September, the 10th International Conference on Sustainable Development and Planning 2018, organized by the Wessex Institute of Technology (WIT, New Forest, UK) took place at the Santa Chiara Lab of the University of Siena (Italy). The overall aim of WIT is to develop a series of knowledge transfer mechanisms, particularly directed towards the exchange of information between academics and professional users within the industry. This is achieved through specialist research and a range of conference all around the world, organized within the Institute and its associated companies.
The conference also hosted the ceremony of the Prigogine Medal, prestigious prize, annually delivered to a leading scientist in the field of ecological systems. This year the Prigogine Medal was awarded to professor Stuart Kauffman, American medical doctor, theoretical biologist, and complex systems researcher, as a merit of his innovative research that redefines the origin and evolution of life on Earth.
The University of Siena hosted the academic conference with participants from more than 40 different countries. Approximately 100 scientific papers have been presented in three days, and many important topics have been addressed, including energy resources and saving, environment management, city planning, and sustainable tourism.
It was presented a paper on Sustainable Development Goals and resource consumption. It is entitled: “Relationship between SDG framework and emergy evaluation for an environmental assessment of 2030 agenda” by M. Gigliotti, V. Niccolucci, M. Marchi, F. Gagliardi, F.M. Pulselli. All the authors are affiliated at the University of Siena, and the main author is the Network Coordinator for SDSN Youth in the Mediterranean area.
The research starts with an article by Wackernagel and co-authors (2017), who move critical issues on the SDGs framework. They note that the best country performances in the SDGs index are far away from a condition of sustainability since high SDG Index and high human development are supported by high resources consumption.
Gigliotti et al. tried to verify the Wackernagel study using the viewpoint of the environmental accounting methodology called emergy evaluation. this method is one of the research topics of the Ecodynamic Group at the University of Siena, founded by professor Tiezzi and now directed by professors Bastianoni and Marchettini (most of the authors are part of it).
The “eMergy” accounting is an evaluation methodology of all natural resources, both energy and material flow, independently of their monetary value. It is an assessment of how much primary energy, usually solar energy, it is directly or indirectly necessary to obtain a product or a process. With emergy results it is possible to evaluate the sustainability of a territory or a production process, taking into account all the resources feeding the system. Using the National Emergy Accounting Database (NEAD), that collects emergy flows per capita for more than 150 countries, the authors put into relation these data with the SDG index score of the 2018 report by Bertelsmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solution Network.
This index is built on a system of scores for almost 100 indicators from internationally available databases, trying to cover all SDG targets. Gigliotti et al. have calculated the best condition of sustainability on the graph, finding a quadrant defined by the first quartile of emegy flows and the fourth quartile of SDG score. No nation is in that optimum space, that means that no one is on the way of sustainability, confirming Wackernagel’s thesis. The best countries in SDG index are high emergy consumers, for which strong environmental protection policies and reduction of energy and material consumption are necessary. The countries in the last position of the SDGs ranking have the possibility to increase the consumption of resources to improve their socio-economic conditions but taking care not to fall into the mistakes of exceeding the limits, moving away from the sustainability thresholds.
The paper conclusion suggests the emergy accounting as a method to investigate material and energy flows between goals, to stimulate solution with the less resource consumption.
During his presentation, Dr. Gigliotti proposed a graphic representation of the connections between the SDGs and the main arguments treated during the International Conference. The result is a picture of the SDG icon squares, in which the size represents the frequency of the goals, as a colorful method of communication.
Massimo Gigliotti is a PhD student in environmental science and sustainability at university of Siena (Italy). The Sustainable Development Goals regroup in a single framework its different ideas of the future. Since their approval, the SDGs have characterized his last formation with a master degree thesis on agricultural sustainability and management of water resources.
He is passionate about writing, dissemination and journalism. He is actually involve as Mediterranean Network Coordinator for SDSN youth.