A framework for development and communication of absolute environmental sustainability assessment methods

An absolute environmental sustainability assessment (AESA) addresses whether a produc-tion or consumption activity can be considered environmentally sustainable in an absolute sense. This involves a comparison of its environmental pressure to its allocated environ-mental carrying capacity. AESA methods have been developed in multiple academic ?elds, each using their own set of concepts and terms with little communication across the ?elds. A recent growing interest in using AESA methods for decision support calls for a bet-ter common understanding of the constituents of an AESA method and how it can be communicated to scienti?c peers and to potential users. With this aim, we develop a framework for AESA methods, composed of a succession of four assessment steps and involving six methodological choices that must be made by the method developer or the user. We then use the framework to analyze and compare ?ve selected AESA methods that focus on the release of phosphorus and nitrogen to the envi-ronment. In this manner, we show that the framework is able to systematically differentiate AESA methods that initially appear to be similar. Intended users of the framework include (1) method developers communicating new AESA methods to academic peers or poten-tial method users and (2) researchers comparing a group of existing AESA methods and communicating their differences to their peers and to potential users looking for guidance on method selection.