Social-ecological resilience thinking in Environmental Management Systems for municipal strategic planning
Human actions are significantly affecting natural environments from local to global scales. At the same time, our current and future well-being is not decoupled from the continuous function of the natural ecosystems. An emerging issue, from an anthropocentric point of view, is then under what conditions the ecosystems will be able to continue delivering services that we as humans benefit from. A concept within the theory of social-ecological resilience that deals with this issue is thresholds.
This thesis addresses how the concept of thresholds can be operationalized in a local authority and what gains and challenges that could entail for strategic planning in the municipality. The thesis also addresses how the operationalization of thresholds could benefit from a standardized Environmental Management System (EMS) in a local authority, and if there are any difficulties in doing so. My research questions are addressed by studying Eskilstuna municipality, a local authority in Sweden that uses both an EMS and is part of an on-going resilience assessment in collaboration with Stockholm Resilience Centre. The studied case and issues described above are approached interdisciplinary by using literature and document studies, participant observations, a survey, and semi-structured interviews with actors at the municipality.
My research shows that thresholds potentially could be operationalized in a local authority either through strategic action plans, or as a way of constructing scenarios in comprehensive planning. Both ways of operationalizing thresholds need to occur in early stages of strategic planning. The thesis shows that thresholds could entail a potential comprehensive gain for strategic planning by providing an argument as to why it is important that certain development trajectories within the municipality are changed. The results also show synergistic effects between the EMS and thresholds in the sense that the EMS could systematize the implementation of overarching strategic plans, influenced by the concept of thresholds, in the municipality’s organization. Challenges in using thresholds in a local authority related mainly to the issues of quantifying thresholds, and to a tension between the different system boundaries suggested by resilience theory and continuous improvement in an EMS.
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