Footprint Evaluation Initiative: Incorporating Environmental Sustainability into ALL Evaluations

Alice Macfarlan
09 November 2022
Footprint Evaluation Initiative: Incorporating Environmental Sustainability into ALL Evaluations
The Footprint Evaluation Initiative is an international collaboration grounded on the premise that all evaluations should include consideration of environmental sustainability, even when this is not a stated goal of the intervention.

Alice Macfarlan is the Manager of the BetterEvaluation Knowledge Platform, which is part of the Global Evaluation Initiative (GEI).

What is Footprint Evaluation?

Footprint Evaluation is not a specific methodology or an approach. It’s an ongoing collaborative effort to curate and co-create knowledge about methods and approaches that can be used to understand the environmental sustainability of interventions.  The Footprint Evaluation Initiative, hosted on the Better Evaluation platform, provides guidance, tools and processes on how to include sustainability in evaluations - to support the commissioners of evaluation, evaluation professionals and users of evaluation findings.

Why We Believe ALL Evaluations Should Consider Environmental Sustainability

The world is faced with numerous, compounding environmental crises such as climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, ocean warming and acidification, and deforestation - with serious potential for global catastrophe. Many of us are living through the devastating effects of these intersecting crises on a local level. Where I live in Australia, “catastrophic” bushfires and floods are becoming regular events and important ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the giant kelp forests in the South East, are facing potentially irreversible damage. In the face of these crises, decision-making must be informed by evaluations that take into account the potential – and actual – environmental consequences of planned interventions.

However, most evaluations fail to consider environmental sustainability (see recent stocktaking of sustainability readiness conducted by the UN Evaluation Group  and the Canadian Evaluation Society). This is even true for countries who have made global environmental commitments. There are significant improvements to be made across the board on the inclusion of environmental sustainability in evaluations. The Footprint Evaluation effort is a step in that direction.

Learning How to Evaluate the Potential or Actual Footprint of an Intervention

Some of the key challenges we’ve been working on through the Footprint Evaluation Initiative include:

  • How can an evaluation effectively address natural systems/environmental sustainability?
  • What hinders or helps this? What are specific challenges and opportunities?
  • What kind of guidance, tools and processes for evaluations will help to address environmental sustainability? Which systemic approaches amplify helping factors and enable us to overcome hindering factors? 

For more information, take a look at the following resources:

(This blog is edited from a version that first appeared on the American Evaluation Association website.)

Header image credit: Photo: © Arne Hoel/World Bank.


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