Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Comparing Measures of Sustainability of Nations

There's a working paper by J. Ram Pilarisetti and Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh called
Sustainable Nations: What Do Aggregate Indicators Tell Us? The paper, published by the Tinbergen Institute in the Netherlands, examines the different results achieved when using three common measures of nation sustainability, and explores what this might mean.

The abstract says:

What is a ‘sustainable nation’ and how can we identify and rank ‘sustainable nations’? Are nations producing and consuming in a sustainable way? Aggregate indicators have been proposed to answer these questions. This paper quantitatively compares three aggregate indicators of sustainability: the World Bank’s ‘Genuine Savings’ measure, the ‘Ecological Footprint’ and the ‘Environmental Sustainability Index’. It is concluded that rankings of sustainable nations vary significantly among these indicators. Implications of this disagreement for analysis and policy are suggested.

I found the paper interesting -- you might enjoy it as well. It does a good job of pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three measures, and it notes that some countries fail in all three. But it also points that you can get opposite results using different measures, which is a good warning to all of use using indicators to pay careful attention to the measurement tools that we use.

From the conclusion:

The questions of sustainability of humanity’s consumption and identifying sustainable nations can not be conclusively answered using the three considered indicators. All indicators reflect methodological and measurement problems, and using each of them to rank sustainable nations or commenting on humanity’s consumption may yield erroneous results. Despite the limitations and lack of agreement among the various indicators, it might be worthwhile to check which nations are ranked low according to all indexes, according to EF and ESI, or EF and GS or ESI and GS. Besides the above 11 nations identified as the bottom performers by all indexes, EF and ESI also jointly identify 42 nations as unsustainable; EF and GS jointly consider 14 countries as unsustainable; and ESI and GS jointly view 17 countries as unsustainable. These nations perhaps most urgently would need to critically examine their economic development and environment policies.

Hat tip: Sustainable Options


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