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Patrick Robert Steichen

Shaping Sustainable Decision-Making to Operationalize Corporate Strategic Vision: A Case Study Analysis

For large engineering projects, many companies and regulatory agencies rely on impact assessments to weigh environmental, social, and economic benefits against possible harms. These impact assessments, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Social Impact Assessment (SIA), are seen important tools to align business practice with sustainability objectives, but these tools are far from perfect.  Even in areas that incorporate many of the best practices surrounding project assessment, many sustainability controversies exist. The goal of this research is to critically review the existing theory and application of various ‘sustainability assessments’, analyse the mechanics of assessments as a decision support tool within two case studies, and examine the role of corporate visions and strategy in making more sustainably-minded decisions at the project level. The comparative case study examines two hydroelectric dams in Canada, the Keeyask Generating Project and the Muskrat Falls Generating Project. As the energy regulatory practices in Canada are often considered best practice compared to many other areas of the world, these cases provide an appropriate foundation for theory-testing on the effectiveness of ‘sustainability assessments’. Differences in the strategic vision and values of the two proponent companies provide an appropriate setting to evaluate whether corporate sustainability visions can be incorporated into engineering project decisions. Results of the study found that sustainability assessments with effective framing and implementation can serve as valuable tools for companies to advance sustainability agendas. The case study analysis revealed that a pluralistic approach which centres decision-making around comprehensive sustainability criteria is key to an effective sustainability assessment process.