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Managing trade-offs in complex scenarios: A decision-making tool for sustainability projects

de Magalhães, Ruane Fernandes, Danilevicz, Ângela de Moura Ferreira, Palazzo, Joseph
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.212 pp. 447-460
decision making, decision support systems, guidelines, planning, technicians, traceability
The inclusion of sustainability factors in projects is considered a challenge for technicians, managers and decision makers. Sustainability projects deal with a large number of criteria from different areas, making the decision-making process more complex and uncertain. Multicriteria methods can guide project choices to reach their objectives; however, they are not able to manage the overlap and conflicting aspects of these objectives, called trade-offs. Trade-offs are considered to be an integral part of any sustainability project, since they address conflicting objectives, taking into account environmental, social and economic aspects. In some studies, trade-offs have been approached from the view of their formation process, or from how they can be identified in projects. However, there is a gap in the literature related to structured procedures to support decision-makers after the identification of trade-offs. Therefore, this paper proposes a tool to support trade-off management in the decision-making process in complex sustainability-focused projects. The Trade-Off Decision-Making tool assists the project planning stage, unfolding into two sequential phases: guidelines to be considered for the management of trade-offs; and trade-offs management operationalization. The guidelines were developed based on literature best practices, while the trade-offs management originated from the operationalization of five comparative analyses carried out between conflicting objectives, using a structured worksheet. The proposed tool contributes to the proper handling of conflicting objectives in sustainability projects not only in managerial but also operational areas. Our guidance structure for handling trade-offs provides greater robustness, objectivity and traceability to the choices made during the planning of sustainability projects.