Abstract Subjectivity is often viewed as one of the shortcomings of environmental impact assessment (EIA). Politicized evaluations, narrow boundary setting, data gaps and simplified assumptions are frequently seen as problems in EIA that must be addressed. This paper takes a different approach to the issue. It views subjectivity as one of the positive attributes of the process that should be encouraged in order to promote sustainability and to inspire confidence in EIA. A satisfactory decision at the end of a specific EIA is not the only goal of the process. As a forum in which the public, proponents and regulators deliberate on the design and implementation of development plans, the creation of discourse around the pertinent issues at stake is also an important result. EIA promotes the development of values that foster greater social responsibility and has the capacity to increase the importance of long-term environmental considerations in decision-making.