During the preparation of a project at European level (already seen here), we generally have an initial part relating to excellence, where we describe the state of the art and innovation that the designed solution intends to bring, as well as which needs it is able to satisfy and how it manages to do so.

Once excellence has been established, the expected impact of the project must be described (already seen here). This part is very important as the expected technological, economic, environmental, and social impacts will be defined.  Indeed, developing projects often mainly focus on the technological and economic aspects, without taking into account the environmental and social impacts that must always be included.

Carrying out an innovative project without involving society, or developing a technology that is counterproductive for the environment, makes us immediately reflect on the usefulness and sustainability of the solution we want to develop. 

Which approach can we use?


One possible approach to follow for the definition of a project’s impact is based on the following diagram that indicates the relationship between the “three pillars of sustainability“, in which economy and society are included within the environmental limit.

Here we see that the economy must always be considered within the complex system called “society”, which is inserted in the “environment” system, without which it could not exist.


Sustainability Pillars



The 5ML approach

Another approach to be considered is called the 5 Model Level “5ML” and is based on five concepts: SYSTEM, SUCCESS, STRATEGIC GUIDES, ACTIONS, and INSTRUMENTS.

This can be adapted and used as a methodological approach to achieve ambitious objectives, such as those pursued in a European project. These five elements are detailed below.

5ML Approach


SYSTEM: This indicates understanding how our system works, by considering the funnel metaphor that helps us visualize economic, social, and environmental pressures that are growing in society, as natural resources are decreasing and population numbers and consumption are growing.

SUCCESS: The level of success is “sustainability”, which means that the 3 Sustainable Environmental Principles and 5 Sustainable Social Principles are not violated.

STRATEGIC GUIDELINES: Strategic guidelines for the implementation of the framework and the adoption of actions in favour of sustainability. The most important strategy to focus on is “backcasting”, which is established as a future vision of the organization, where the 8 principles of sustainability are not violated, and with the definition of specific actions that should be undertaken in the present.

SUCCESS: The level of success is “sustainability”, which means that nature is not subject to systematic increases, therefore the 3 Sustainable Environmental Principles and 5 Sustainable Social Principles are not violated.

ACTIONS: These are the concrete actions that are taken to achieve the expected success.

TOOLS: The variety of tools to manage the path to sustainability. Some instruments are effective in different situations, but many of them work well together and create synergies when used in the context of the framework.

These are just some of the many inputs that can be used to define and measure the impacts during the design phase.

Because every project is unique, the best way to move forward is to carefully consider all possibilities and properly design the project right from the start.


Sara Canella

Sara Canella

EU Funding, Innovation & Marketing

I am a freelance consultant specialized in applying for and managing European funding for companies and start-ups active in the field of research and innovation. My work includes the creation of business plans, development plans and marketing plans aiming at applying for European calls for proposals. My objective is to provide companies active in innovation with some concrete tools to start their projects and with my know-how to convert them into real business opportunities.