While sustainable development is a difficult objective to define, most people can agree today that current flows of energy and materials through our economic system are unsustainable because they overwhelm the assimilative and regenerative capacity of the encompassing natural system. Thus, even without agreement on the end point, analysis and policies are possible and necessary now. EMRG seeks to contribute to this pressing need by providing information systems and analytical tools that allow policy makers to assess the cost-effectiveness and political feasibility of policies that might shift society toward a more sustainable trajectory.
Some researchers focus on reducing the flows of energy and materials for a given level of societal well-being: referred to as 'improving energy and material productivity', 'dematerialization', 'ecological footprint' or 'factor ten'. Some researchers focus on shifting to more benign flows of energy and materials: referred to as 'eco-efficiency', 'industrial ecology', 'industrial metabolism' or 'cradle-to-grave-responsibility'.
While both directions need to be pursued, in research and policy experiments, the analytical tools to help decision makers are still relatively underdeveloped. On the one hand, there are economic-based policy models that focus on the financial costs and possible lost consumer welfare from policy efforts to change energy and material intensity in an aggregate sense. On the other hand, there are technology-based policy models that focus on technological possibilities while ignoring the product quality and risk preferences of businesses and consumers. By neglecting what the other contains, both approaches only tell part of the story, leaving policy makers in a confusion about whether a more sustainable trajectory is costly or not, politically and administratively easy or not.
Sustainable Policy Modelling
The major thrust of EMRG research is to bridge this gap by developing and applying sustainable policy models that are both technologically explicit and behaviourally realistic. This means, for example, that the potential for society to shift to different kinds of technologies and systems for personal transportation is not excluded from the analysis. But it also means that the current preference of many consumers for private vehicles over public transit is not excluded. In this way, policy makers can be more fully appraised of the technological options, but also of the consumer welfare and ultimately political costs of a particular policy. Finally, with this type of model, policy makers can also test the effect of policies that might change the incentives of producers or even influence the preferences of consumers.
The CIMS model (formerly called ISTUM) has developed over the past three decades at EMRG. This policy tool is both technologically explicit and behaviourally realistic (take the CIMS link for a general description). A decade ago, the model was primarily used to assess energy efficiency programs, being applied for demand-side management analysis by electric and natural gas utilities, and government efficiency agencies. More recently, governments, industry organizations and non-government organizations have used the model across the country to assess the direct costs to businesses and consumers of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. Of special note, CIMS is one of the four main models employed since 1999 by the Canadian government in the national consultation process to meet Canada's international greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments. The latest developments with CIMS (through the work of graduate theses and research contracts) are designed to position the model as a more complete sustainable policy modelling tool. This includes: a fuller representation of material flows in the model, a fuller representation of emissions and effluents, and the linkage of the model to a more complete representation of macro-economic feedbacks. These latest developments position EMRG to continue to provide decision makers with the kind of tool that can help them assess a wide range of sustainability policies, including environmental tax shifting, vehicle and other technology emission standards, tradable permit systems, product responsibility programs for business, community energy management, consumer preference shifting programs by government and business, and environmentally-based trade agreements.
Industrial Data Centre
Effective sustainability decision making, and the use of policy modelling tools in particular, requires good data. For over twenty years, EMRG has housed the Canadian Industrial Energy End-Use Data and Analysis Centre (CIEEDAC). Directed by Dr. Brad Griffin, CIEEDAC works in collaboration with other key national organizations to improve upon the national information systems for energy use. The existence of CIEEDAC within EMRG has provided important synergies in terms of the relevance of data collection and dissemination (1) to providing decision makers with information on the current trends in energy use and emissions, and (2) to providing the data critical to the development and application of useful policy analysis modelling tools. CIEEDAC continues to be a national and international leader in this field.