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Sustainability analysis diagram


The sustainability analysis diagram is an approach to help taking into account the different sustainability dimensions when analyzing requirements to a software system. 

Executive Summary

The sustainability analysis diagram/framework is an approach to consider sustainability dimensions when analyzing requirements for systems and services. It is often referred to as a sosio-technical analysis, and aids in providing a systemic approach

The model consists of five dimensions: individual, social, monetary, technical, and environmental.

Each dimension is divided into three levels: immediate, enabling, and structural effects.

Definition of the approach

One of the core competence areas of professionals involved in the development of ICT is the identification and representation of requirements. For modern ICT-solutions, sustainability can be considered a key non-functional cross-cutting requirement in several regards. Becker and colleagues (Becker et al. 2016) have developed a model structuring the effects of software systems into five dimensions. Three of them are used in several sustainability models and originate in (Brundtland 1987): The economic (monetary), the environmental, and the social dimensions. To this, Becker and colleagues add the individual and the technical dimension, and these five dimensions are often depicted as a pentagon as seen below.

Dimensions of the sustainability analysis diagram

For each of the five dimensions, this pentagon model distinguishes between immediate, enabling and structural effects, corresponding to the first-, second- and third-order effects outlined in (Hilty et al. 2006). 

  • Level 1 refers to the direct effects of the production, use and disposal of ICT, effects that can be assessed with a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach. In particular, this includes the demand for materials and energy throughout the whole life cycle. These effects are placed entirely on the negative side as they represent the cost of providing ICT services.
  • Level 2 refers to the enabling effects of ICT services, or the effects of applying ICT. From a sustainability point of view, these effects may be favorable or unfavorable  
  • Level 3 refers to the systemic effects, i.e. the long-term reaction of the dynamic socio-economic system to the availability of ICT services, including behavioral change (life styles) and economic structural change. On the negative side, rebound effects prevent the reduction of total material resource use by converting efficiency improvements into additional consumption, and new risks may emerge, for example due to the vulnerability of ICT networks. On the positive side, ICT has the potential to support sustainable patterns of production and consumption.

The model depicts the IT-systems in the middle, discussing this from a software engineering point of view.  In an information systems, one would also directly include aspects such as improved business processes that reside on the second level.

The five dimensions can be described in more detail in the following way: (Becker, 2016)

  • The individual dimension covers individual freedom and agency (the ability to act in an environment), human dignity, and fulfillment. It includes individuals’ ability to thrive, exercise their rights, and develop freely.
  • The social dimension covers relationships between individuals and groups. For example, it covers the structures of mutual trust and communication in a social system and the balance between conflicting interests.
  • The monetary  dimension covers financial aspects and business value. It includes capital growth and liquidity, investment questions, and financial operations.
  • The technical dimension covers the ability to maintain and evolve artificial systems (such as software) over time. It refers to maintenance and evolution, resilience, and the ease of system transitions. According to (Davidsen & Krogstie, 2010, Holgeid et al  2022) only between 20-25 % of the work used on IT is used on developing new functionality in new or existing software systems, whereas the rest of the time is used to keep the existing systems operational. The technical dimension on sustainability has to be seen in the light of that there is an external pressure to change the logical part of IT-systems, i.e. one must be able to change existing systems for them to not become obsolete.  
  • The environmental dimension covers the use and stewardship of natural resources. It includes questions ranging from immediate waste production and physical resource and energy consumption to the balance of local ecosystems and climate change concerns.

These dimensions are often interlinked, so that an effect in one can have positive or negative effect on another. 

Also the level of effect can be blurred, and we will in the analysis primarily look upon this so that what is immediate effects are the immediate consequences of developing and using an ICT system, whereas enabling effects relates to the how (new) behavior is enabled when using the system (even if this effect is planned through for instance new business processes that are made possible through the use of the system).

de aspects such as improved business processes that reside on the second level.

Examples of use

Core concepts: 

Video tutorial



Templates and examples

The model has been used in the development of a model for sustainability evaluation of ICT projects (Porras et al. 2017).  

An approach to link from sustainable business canvas to this diagram via goal models, and further to quantified sustainability requirements is found in (PDF) Sustainability Quantification in Requirements Informing Design (researchgate.net)


SUSAF (Sustainability Awareness Framework) is a workshop method for a way to use the model    

The Finnish company Compile  use the dimensions in the framework to guide the development of sustainable software.


C. Becker et al., “Requirements: The Key to Sustainability,” IEEE Softw., vol. 2016, no. January/February, 2016.

G. H. Brundtland, “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future,” United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987.

Davidsen, M.K., Krogstie, J. A longitudinal study of development and maintenance. Information and Software Technology, 2010, 52 (7), pp. 707–719.

M. Hilty, P. Arnfalk, L. Erdmann, J. Goodman, M. Lehmann, and P. A. Wäger, “The relevance of information and communication technologies for environmental sustainability,” Environ. Model. Softw., vol. 21, pp. 1618–1629, 2006.

Holgeid, K.K., Krogstie, J., Mikalef, P., Saur, E.E., Sjøberg, D.I.K. (2022). Benefits management and IT work distribution, submitted for publication 

J. Porras, V. Palacin, O. Drögehorn, and B. Penzenstadler, “Developing a model for evaluation of sustainability perspectives and effects in ICT projects,” presented at the International SEEDS conference, Sep. 2017.

Version log

PA113.2.2022John Krogstie
PA314.2.2023John Krogstie: Changed color in pentagon 
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