Sustainability assessments are an increasingly common tool for measuring progress towards sustainable development. Despite their popularity, sustainability assessments and the indicators that compose them are said to have had little impact on the policy arena. In this paper we discuss four attributes that we contend will improve the use of sustainability assessments to guide decision making: non-compartmentalization, site specificity, built-in guidance for target setting, and ability to measure active sustainability. We present a novel assessment tool for wastewater treatment infrastructure that illustrates these attributes. The assessment is composed of two-dimensional indicators we call "burden to capacity" ratios, that reveal and quantify the local value of resources embodied in wastewater and treatment byproducts, and the tradeoffs between designing systems for disposal versus reuse. We apply the sustainability assessment framework to an existing treatment plant in Chengdu, China and discuss the results. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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