Integrating strategic environmental assessment and material flow accounting: a novel approach for moving towards sustainable urban futures

  • Giuseppe IoppoloEmail author
  • Stefano Cucurachi
  • Roberta Salomone
  • Lei Shi
  • Tan Yigitcanlar



The population living in urban areas of the world continues to grow rapidly. It is, thus, a great priority for the planning practice to embed sustainability concept in their urban development endeavors. Currently, development and expansion of urban systems stress the need to control consumption of resources, especially non-renewable ones. There is also a need to reduce related environmental impacts, while stimulating a sustainable pathway for the population and urban growth.


Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is useful for policy design to build an integrated method for supporting the development of a sustainable society. It undertakes territorial assessments and describes urban flows and impacts related to them by using a variety of tools, including material flow accounting (MFA). This study employs MFA, as it fits well within the scope of SEA and supports the growing environmental attention in the urban metabolism approach. Although helpful, MFA has not been systematically applied in the urban development context; for this reason, this paper proposes the integration of SEA and MFA.

Results and discussion

Integration of SEA and MFA generates a new framework for sustainable development planning. The framework is structured in phases oriented to the continual improvement based on the Deming cycle (i.e., plan, do, check, act), a key management approach mainly used in businesses for improving the effectiveness of an organization. It can also be implemented at the urban system level. In order to maintain normative compliance, each process (urban planning, strategic environmental assessment with urban metabolism approach, participatory processes) is standardized in line with a common and mandatory approach. While the processes are integrated among them, highlighting the reciprocal contact points, the results are combined in a holistic perspective. The framework, hence, transforms the voluntary MFA tool into a mandatory process.


The proposed SEA-MFA framework has the potential to unify and standardize the processes of categorizing and quantifying data in order to improve the understanding of urban metabolic principles and scale effects. It also supports management and policy development and meets the requirements of different stakeholders. The framework, thus, generated a novel approach for sustainable urban development planning by providing solutions for specific policy problems and ensuring urban ecological balance and sustainable urban futures.


Life cycle thinking (LCT) Material flow accounting (MFA) Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) Sustainable urban development Urban metabolic governance Urban metabolism (UM) 



This paper is realized within the Project “Research & Mobility: A novel approach to Urban Metabolism: integration of economic, environmental and social issues for the design of sustainable urban systems”. Giuseppe Ioppolo is the P.I. and all the other coauthors are involved as members of the project. We thank the Editor and Reviewers for their constructive comments that helped to improve the paper.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giuseppe Ioppolo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefano Cucurachi
    • 2
  • Roberta Salomone
    • 1
  • Lei Shi
    • 3
  • Tan Yigitcanlar
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of MessinaMessinaItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental SciencesUniversity of LeidenLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.School of EnvironmentTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.School of Civil Engineering and Built EnvironmentQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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