Contrasting and comparing sustainable development indicator metrics Jeffrey Wilson a,*, Peter Tyedmers a, Ronald Pelot b
School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada b Department of Industrial Engineering, Dalhousie University, Canada
Received 4 October 2005; received in revised form 17 February 2006; accepted 21 February 2006
Abstract Despite the fact that it has been well over a decade since Agenda 21 ﬁrst called for sustainable development indicators, there is no consensus regarding the best approach to the design and use of SDI models. It is important, therefore, to question the effectiveness of SDIs in an effort to continue advancing sustainability. This paper addresses one aspect of this question by exploring whether our global SDI metrics are sending a clear message to guide us towards sustainable development. Six global SDI metrics are compared by relative ranking in colour coded tabular format and spatially in map format. The combined presentation of results clearly illustrates that the different metrics arrive at varying interpretations about the sustainability of nations. The degree of variability between the metrics is analyzed using correlation analysis. The variability in ﬁndings draws attention to the lack of a clear direction at the global level in how best to approach sustainable development. Canada is presented as a case study to highlight and explain the discrepancies between SDI measures. # 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Sustainability; Sustainable development; Indicators; Indicators of development; Ecological footprint; Environmental sustainability index; Wellbeing index
‘‘Indicators of sustainable development need to be developed to provide solid bases for decision-making at all levels and to contribute to a self-regulating sustainability of integrated environment and development systems.’’ United Nations (1992, Agenda 21, Chapter 40.4) * Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 902 494 6517; fax: +1 902 474 3728. E-mail address: email@example.com (J. Wilson).
1. Introduction The global adoption of sustainable development, symbolized by the United Nations World Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (1992), marked the beginning of a new era in development. It was recognized that the needs and aspirations of people needed to be balanced with healthy ecological systems. The pursuit of development, as such, could no longer be justiﬁed in economic
1470-160X/$ – see front matter # 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2006.02.009
J. Wilson et al. / Ecological Indicators 7 (2007) 299–314
terms without consideration of the broader environmental impacts. Accompanying this dramatic shift in the focus of development was a demand for information and direction by which to achieve ‘‘sustainable development.’’ One approach to satisfy this demand has been to adopt new indicators of progress that complement traditional barometers of development which were typically economic in design. Sustainable development indicator (SDI) frameworks are designed to collect, process, and use information with the goal of making better decisions, directing smarter policy choices, measuring progress, and monitoring feedback mechanisms. In essence, their goal is to ensure that development is sustainable. The impetus for the development and use of SDIs was articulated in Chapter 40 of Agenda 21 which stated: ‘‘indicators of sustainable development need to be developed to provide solid bases for decision making at all levels and to contribute to a selfregulatory sustainability of integrated environment and development systems’’ (United Nations, 1992). Since then a range of environmental, social and economic SDI methodologies concerning human activities have been suggested (Bell and Morse, 2004; Heuting and...