Examples

Building on the CSD and other work, the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators (CGSDI) (iisd.org/cgsdi/) has assembled a data set corresponding to the CSD indicators and developed an interesting tool, the Dashboard of Sustainability (esl.jrc.it/dc/index.htm), that provides an integrated presentation of such indicator sets. The CGSDI thought that integrating across economic, social, and environmental fields was conceptually difficult because there was no common denominator, but that economic indicators with monetary values, social indicators expressed per capita or in similar human terms, and environmental indicators based on scientific measurements could be integrated within those sectors and then cross-compared for a more complete view of sustainability. The result is not an assessment as such but a means by which each user can perform individual assessments. Because the Dashboard is a tool for an integrated view of any data set, it can be used to compare different indicator sets and to highlight and make transparent the assumptions and weightings, conscious or unconscious, behind each. It can therefore facilitate more open integrated assessments.

An interesting recent initiative to address sustainability more directly is the Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI), developed by the South Pacific Applied Geo-science Commission (SOPAC) (Kaly et al. 2003; Pratt et al. 2004; SOPAC 2005). This uses fifty indicators to estimate the vulnerability of the environment to future shocks in 235 countries (www.vulnerabilityindex.net/). What is conceptually interesting about this index is its effort to relate the indicators to scientifically founded concepts or limits of what is sustainable rather than to simply give the range of countries from best to worst. The index is reported as a single dimensionless number, accompanied by several subindices and a country profile of the results for all indicators, showing where the specific problems lie. The index thus integrates and assesses all aspects of environmental vulnerability. Although there are still aspects that need refinement, the EVI approaches an integrated measure of environmental sustainability. It is intended to accompany another index of economic vulnerability also developed in the context of the 1994 Bar bados Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States, which called for the development of a vulnerability index.

Nongovernment organizations have developed their own assessment approaches and reports in an effort to provide an alternative view to that of the official or dominant view of governments and economists. Some of these have pioneered integrated indices as the principal instrument for their assessments, supported only by short text commentary. A good example is the annual WWF Living Planet Report (WWF 2004). It includes a Living Planet Index averaged from indices of global terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species and a World Ecological Footprint compiled from cropland, grazing land, forest, fishing ground, and energy footprints. It also includes scenarios projecting key indicators into the future. The Wellbeing of Nations (Prescott-Allen 2001) is another example of an assessment of nations' environmental status and quality of life based on several highly aggregated indices. However, it would best be described as a status report rather than a sustainability assessment.

As these examples show, although indicators are becoming increasingly common in integrated assessments, they are still largely illustrative of specific factors or the comparative state of such factors and are far from reflecting or driving the integrated perspective itself or capturing the dynamic processes underlying sustainability. However, some recent initiatives are beginning to make progress in that direction.

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