Causal Relationships Among Multiple Criteria of Sustainable Development

Causal Relationships Among Multiple Criteria of Sustainable Development

Lazim Abdullah (Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Malaysia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJSESD.2020070104


The assessment of sustainable development is really challenging due to multiple criteria that characterize sustainable development. These criteria are interdependent where one criterion may influence the effectiveness of the entire criteria. This article aims to unravel the causal relationship among the criteria of sustainable development. Five experts in sustainable development were invited to provide linguistic evaluation about the criteria of sustainable development in Terengganu Malaysia. The current research proposes the use of fuzzy decision-making trial and evaluation laboratory (DEMATEL) methods for the formation of causal relationship. The use of fuzzy DEMATEL approach is harmonious in dealing with experts' bias and ambiguity pertaining to the investigation. Research findings indicate that ‘economic growth' (C31) is the most important criteria in sustainable development in the investigated region. The main contribution of this paper is the establishment of the cause-effect relationship among fifteen criteria of sustainable development.
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Sustainable development was first made known during 1970’s era. However, it has only being acknowledged by people after the release of 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development which is also known as the Brundtland Commission Report. The Report of the Brundtland Commission was created to focus on the development fulfilling the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987). It means, should the present generations fail, the problems will occur to other generations as well as reducing their capability to create the new things. The significant contribution of sustainable development can be seen from its various perspectives of definitions. Holmberg and Sandbrook (1992) claimed that there are more than seventy definitions of sustainable development that currently in circulation. However, generally, there are three aspects of sustainable development that often being presented which divided into environmental, social and economic dimensions (Hardi and Zdan, 1997). The three dimensions which have been overlapping circles with the same size to show the equally important contribution of the three dimensions towards sustainable development. In other words, the three dimensions are not mutually exclusive and interdependent.

Many literatures acknowledged that the three important dimensions are seen as a comprehensive outlook when discussing about sustainable development. However, the dimensions are not standing alone. There are many criteria that could be included under each dimension. These criteria bring a complete definition of the dimension and sustainable development as well. For example, the criterion of biodiversity may explain the dimension of the environment. Socio-economic criteria such as income, education and health may be classified under the dimension of economic. To ease these classifications, DETR (1990) provides a list of criteria in which Vahabzadeh et al. (2015) adopted and applied these criteria in the decision-making model of reverse logistics. The criteria for environmental dimension of sustainable development are climate change, air quality, noise, land use and biodiversity and waste management. Safety, health, disturbance, access and equity are the criteria for social dimension in sustainable development. As for the economic dimension, Vahabzadeh et al. (2015) includes growth, jobs and prosperity, fair pricing, competitiveness and choice. It has conclusively been shown that the three dimensions are the three bottom lines that could explicitly express sustainable development. However, a criterion under a dimension is not exclusive and not independent. For example, the social condition of society such as health is affected by the quality of air and water. Air and water quality are part of the dimension of the environment. This is just an example of how the three dimensions are connected and interdependent. Sustainability assessment needs a set of multi-dimensional and multi-criteria framework (Munda 2005). Therefore, assessing sustainable development is very challenging because of at least two main reasons: The first reason is due to the multiple dimensions and criteria that encompassed sustainable development; and the second reason is the nature of criteria which is interdependent from one to another.

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