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Communicating Sustainability as Emergy Based Foot- and Fingerpring
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social and Economic Geography.
2010 (English)In: International Conference on Education for Sustainable Development / [ed] Leif Östman, Tungalag Baljir, 2010Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]


In education for sustainable development tools that highlight our attention on human impact on nature and humans accelerating depletion of natural resources play a prominent part. Pedagogical methods that facilitate an understanding about how a change towards a more sustainable way of living is possible have an important didactic position. Sustainability is a concept dealing with systems in a holistic and long term perspective. Unfortunately methods applicable to systems are uncommon; emergy analysis is one of them. Emergy analysis is a scientific and robust method, created of H.T. Odum during the last four decades (Odum 1996; Brown 2003; Brown and Ulgiati 2004). Emergy analysis is feasible to appraise the degree of sustainability of systems, human as well as natural systems. Emergy put a value on all work done by the biosphere and transform them into a common unit. In spite of the advantages of the method, a public breakthrough takes place slowly. One reason could be that the results of an emergy analysis are difficult to grasp. The aim of this research study is to develop the emergy analysis to a more communicative and understandable tool, applicable in wider context and easy to approach in different education situation. In the study, an agricultural system in central Sweden was analyzed out of the emergy method to show the degree of sustainability. By illustrating the results of the analysis in form of a footprint and a fingerprint, a better understanding of the outcome may be achieved.   The footprint, here called emergy–based footprint, visualize in an area all resources used in the production. The emergy-based fingerprint shows, in a bar graph, the emergy flows of the most important items in the system. Alternative visions of the agricultural system were created in the study and each scenario was presented in an emergy-based footprint as well as in an emergy-based fingerprint. Together, they show the characteristics of the different systems. This model may serve as an accessible and communicative guide when trying to transform the actual agricultural system, as well as general systems, in the direction of sustainability.

Keywords: Sustainability, pedagogical tools, communicative method, emergy-based footprint, emergy-based fingerprint.






Brown, M. T. (2003). "Prof. Howard T. Odum 1924 - 2002." Energy 28(4): 293-301.


Brown, M. T. and S. Ulgiati (2004). "Energy quality, emergy, and transformity: H.T. Odum's contributions to quantifying and understanding systems." Ecological Modelling 178(1-2): 201-213.


Odum, H. T. (1996). Environmental accounting : EMERGY and environmental decision making. New York, Wiley.




Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-133190OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-133190DiVA: diva2:360310
International Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, 30/8 - 3/9 2010 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Available from: 2010-11-02 Created: 2010-11-02 Last updated: 2013-04-12

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