Sustainability of Edge-of-Field Best Management Practices: An Emergy-Based Ecological Framework for Discussion

Samantha Francis

Ohio State University


For as long as humans have been aware of the destructive byproducts of their systems, they have been trying to figure out how to make them more sustainable. Mounting scientific evidence and the increasing frequency of climate catastrophes have only amplified the call to address these issues before we reach a threshold of no return. Despite this, little has been done to truly challenge the forcing functions of climate change that are negatively impacting human survival and well-being for this and future generations. As such, we need to develop systems that can both withstand the effects of climate change and mitigate their contributions to it.

My objective is to create a framework and process to analyze the sustainability of systems. This was done by reviewing existing frameworks of systems analysis and empirical research on the sustainability of agricultural, waste treatment, and green infrastructure. The data collected from this literature review informed the creation of a model of systems analysis that incorporates methods of diagramming material flows, measuring impact over a life cycle, and covering multiple scales of system impact. These dynamics encompass the dimensions of environmental, economic, social, and productive sustainability in order to effectively inform decision-making, and ensure that resources are distributed efficiently. This framework can be used to compare the tradeoffs between these different dimensions of sustainability. By analyzing systems through this this comprehensive framework, we can better reckon with the complexity of sustainability strategies and more effectively adapt in the face of crisis.

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2 thoughts on “Sustainability of Edge-of-Field Best Management Practices: An Emergy-Based Ecological Framework for Discussion

  1. I applaud your desire to search for a way to integrate multiple modeling approaches to provide the best analytic tools to assess sustainability at all the different dimensions, including time. I wonder what you have come up with to overcome the many incentives in our economic and political systems to maximize short term gains over long-term consequences. Knowing that something is better in the long run is no guarantee that people will take that path. Have you thought about that?


    1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful question! The intersection between economics, politics, social justice, and our ecological aspirations is my primary interest and something I spend a lot of time thinking about. While this presentation was fairly abstract and discussed incorporating models that tend to be used for internalizing ecological impacts, I intend on using this sustainability framework to represent the existing economic incentives and social impacts as well.
      For example, my current work is related to agricultural systems, so in analyzing the sustainability of a best management practice I find the state and federal subsidies offered for farmers, as well as the disincentives created by insurance companies or general barriers to entry. In Maryland, farmers are offered payment programs for utilizing cover crops in seasons where they might usually leave their fields fallow; at the same time, insurance companies often will not protect farmers that use this practice. These are both concrete costs to farmers and to society that can be represented within this framework– less as a means of ensuring that a particular path is taken, and more of a means of representing the intricacies that exist in the current situation.
      Knowing this, farmers, environmentalists, communities, researchers, and policy makers might have a better grounding in reality and understand what exactly they should be asking for in order to move towards the best outcome for all involved.
      This, of course, is idealistic thinking. But I think it’s worth being a little idealistic sometimes 🙂 Hopefully that answers your question, but if not (or if you think of other things) I would love to continue this conversation!


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