Encyclopedia of Earth

Sustainable Society Index

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Foundation for Renewable Energy & Environment, via freefutures.org

Abstract

When we were looking for a suitable yardstick to measure the level of sustainability of a country a suitable instrument could not be found. Although the main existing indexes were examined we had to conclude that none of them seem to fit our needs completely. The main shortcomings are a limited definition of sustainability, a lack of transparency or high complexity and an absence of regular updates. For this reason, a new index – the Sustainable Society Index (SSI) – has been developed. The SSI integrates the most important aspects of sustainability and quality of life of a national society in a simple and transparent way. Consisting of only 22 indicators, grouped into 5 categories, it is based upon the definition of the Brundtland Commission, extended to the Brundtland+ definition by explicitly including the social aspects of human life.

Using data from public sources, the SSI was initially developed for 150 countries and published in 2006. In 2008 the first of two-yearly updates was published with results for 151 countries for which the SSI could be calculated. The resulting SSI scores on a scale of 0 to 10 allow a quick comparison between countries as is shown on the world map.

The underlying data, some of which are included in this article, allow in-depth analysis of the differences between countries. Two-yearly updates enable to follow developments over time. Although the time lap is relatively short, the results of the SSI-2006 and SSI-2008 seem to indicate a slight improvement in the worldwide average score.

This article outlines the development of the SSI and the calculation methodology and gives the main results. It also summarizes the need for further research and development of the SSI.

1. Introduction

Sustainability is very much in the spotlight these days. Nevertheless, the notion of what is meant by sustainability varies considerably. Many interpret it in the sense of continuous growth. Even among scientists there are numerous definitions of sustainability. However, to be able to support a sustainable way of living on our planet, a clear definition of sustainability is required. Moreover, one has to be able to measure the present level of sustainability and indicate how far removed we are from complete sustainability. This need was clearly recognized by Hales and Prescott-Allen (2002) when they stated: ‘Achieving sustainability requires defining its components in measurable terms and clearly fixing the responsibility to assess progress comprehensively.’ In an attempt to meet these challenges, we propose a comprehensive definition of sustainability and a corresponding new set of indicators, as described in this article.

In section 2 a definition of sustainability is given, existing sets of indicators are examined and a new set of indicators is developed.

Section 3 describes the methodology of calculating the indicators and of aggregating the results first into categories and then into one index. A preliminary sensitivity analysis for the attached weights for the aggregations is given.

Section 4 gives the main results of the SSI-2008 for the world at large, the 7 distinct regions and for all 151 countries.

In section 5 a comparison is made between the SSI-2006 and the SSI-2008 to identify progress over time.

Section 6 outlines proposals for use of the SSI.

Section 7 gives the main subjects which are proposed for further research and development on the SSI.

A conclusion is given in section 8.

2. Sustainability and its indicators

2.1 Definition of sustainability

For many people, the basic idea of sustainability focuses greatly on depletion of resources. Others consider that sustainability covers also (irreversible) pollution, conservation of nature and other environmental and ecological aspects. Some include the aspects of quality of human life, the human well-being. From an anthropocentric point of view, sustainability comprises all three elements:

  1. depletion of resources ? in order not to leave future generations empty-handed,
  2. environmental and ecological aspects ? in order to enable present and future generations to live in a healthy environment, in harmony with nature,
  3. quality of life ? in order to ensure human well-being for present and future generations.

All three elements are important for developing towards a sustainable society. It is for this reason that the IUCN, UNEP and WWF defined sustainable development as ‘Improving the quality of life of humans while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems’. The reason obviously being that sustainability without quality of life makes no sense and quality of life without sustainability has no perspective.

Another element, economy, is not explicitly included, though politicians often use the term ‘sustainable economy’. However, the development of an economy is certainly not a condition for sustainability nor a goal. This was clearly demonstrated by the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008. It underlines that the economy of a country has to be developed within the limits set by sustainability.

The well-known and worldwide respected definition of the Brundtland Commission has been interpreted in more than two hundred ways. To make explicitly clear that sustainability includes all three elements mentioned above, we have extended the definition of Brundtland by adding a sentence so that the qualitative aspects of human life are explicitly included. We have formulated the Brundtland+ definition as follows:

A sustainable society is a society

  • that meets the needs of the present generation,
  • that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,
  • in which each human being has the opportunity to develop itself in freedom, within a well-balanced society and in harmony with its surroundings.

The research question is now: is there a set of indicators available, which is transparent and of a limited size, to measure sustainability in this sense adequately and to show the results at a glance.

2.2 Relevant existing indicators and indexes

Many sets of indicators and indexes exist already and it seems that every year new ones are being developed. This suggests that either no single one is completely adequate or that every set serves a more or less different purpose. We have briefly examined the most relevant indexes and sets of indicators concerning sustainability on a national level. Our findings are shown in Annex 1. We have summarized their pros and cons, bearing in mind the Brundtland+ definition of sustainability given above and the criteria of transparency and limited size. The overall conclusion is that none of the existing indexes seem to fit our needs completely. In other words, not one gives a complete and good insight into all relevant aspects of sustainability. So we felt the need to develop a new index, based on a set of indicators in accordance with the definition of Brundtland+. It was to be transparent, simple and easily understandable, showing at a glance to what extent a society is sustainable for as many of the world's countries as reasonably possible.

2.3 New set of indicators

Following the interpretation of the Brundtland+ definition a set of 22 indicators was defined. These indicators are clustered in 5 categories.

I Personal Development

1 Healthy Life
2 Sufficient Food
3 Sufficient to Drink
4 Safe Sanitation
5 Education Opportunities
6 Gender Equality

 

II Healthy Environment

7 Air Quality
8 Surface Water Quality
9 Land Quality

 

III Well-balanced Society

10 Good Governance
11 Employment
12 Population Growth
13 Income Distribution
14 Public Debt

IV Sustainable Use of Resources

15 Waste Recycling
16 Use of Renewable Water Resources
17 Consumption of Renewable Energy

 

V Sustainable World

18 Forest Area
19 Preservation of Biodiversity
20 Emission of Greenhouse Gases
21 Ecological Footprint
22 International Cooperation

 

 

Together these 22 indicators and 5 categories constitute the newly developed Sustainable Society Index, the SSI. The Sustainable Society Foundation calculates the SSI every two years and publishes the results. End 2006 the SSI was published for the first time, the SSI-2006. In December 2008 the first two-yearly update became available, the SSI-2008.

3. Calculation methodology

3.1 Selection of countries

The Sustainable Society Index has been developed for as many countries as possible. This offers the option of comparison between countries using various viewpoints: neighboring countries, more or less similar countries, regional comparisons, comparisons between rich countries like the OECD members and comparison between North and South.

However, 43 of the existing 194 countries had to be left out due to lack of data. The criterion for the inclusion of a country in the SSI has been that data for at least 12 out of 22 indicators for a country were available. By doing so, the set of indicators could be calculated for nearly all big and medium-sized countries. Exceptions of the bigger countries are Afghanistan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Suriname. Besides these, most small island states had to be left out. Thus the SSI has been calculated for 151 countries. This is one more country than for the SSI-2006, Montenegro.

3.2. Data

Data from public sources, i.e. from scientific institutes and international organizations, were collected for the 151 selected countries. If data of a certain indicator were missing for a country, the average of data of this indicator from comparable countries (according to the classification of clusters by ESI, Environmental Sustainability Index) was used.

3.3. Sustainability value and scoring system of the indicators

Sustainability value

The sustainability value of each of the 22 indicators is the value at which full sustainability is achieved. The sustainability value is the final target for an indicator. It is remarked that the sustainability value cannot always be determined objectively, nor will it in all cases be constant over time. Full sustainability will be achieved when a country achieves the sustainability value for each indicator. The difference between the current value of an indicator and the sustainability value gives the distance to sustainability.

For a number of indicators, the sustainability value can be determined objectively. For instance, the number of undernourished people has to be 0 (indicator 2), or the percentage of people with access to safe drinking water has to be 100 (indicator 3). This reasoning applies for indicators 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 15, 17 and 22. However, some might question why the gender equality has to be 1. So even in this rather obvious case, some subjectivity is included.

For the remaining indicators the sustainability value is less obvious and probably cannot be determined in an objective manner. When is population growth sustainable? If the number of inhabitants stays constant? Or only when it declines? And at which percentage does it have to decline to be sustainable? Or when is income inequality sustainable? Moreover, the sustainability value of an indicator may vary over time. For instance population growth: currently our planet seems to be rather overpopulated. However, it can very well be that our view on this issue will change in the future.

For indicators 18, 20 and 21 an educated guess of the sustainability value could be made, as explained in the next paragraph. If even an educated guess is not reasonably possible, the highest value (best case) of the 151 assessed countries for that indicator is considered the sustainability value, while the lowest value (worst case) is assumed to represent no sustainability at all.

Scoring system

All indicators (and subsequently the categories and the overall index) have been allocated a score on the scale from 0 to 10. An indicator scores a 10 in the case of 100% sustainability. If there is no sustainability at all, the score for the indicator is 0.

The transformation from raw data to indicator scores has been done by standardization, apart from indicators 11, 13, 14 and 18. For these indicators, more complex formulas have been used, in line with the characteristics of the indicator. In the cases where the sustainability value is based on an educated guess, the calculated maximum score is often slightly lower than 10, depending on the chosen formula, so the calculation does not have to be adjusted every time new maximum raw data are made available. The same applies for the calculated minimum scores.

3.4 Aggregation into categories

Opinions concerning aggregation vary from an absolute ‘don’t’ to 'simply do it'. In view of the objectives of the SSI – among others to show at a glance the level of sustainability of a country – an aggregation has been made from indicators into categories and from categories into one single figure for the SSI.

The 22 indicators have been aggregated into the 5 categories, in order to show at a glance the results of the 5 main themes of the SSI.

One may consider one indicator to be more important for achieving sustainability than another. This may certainly be the case but any attribution of weights would be rather subjective. Due to a lack of a scientific basis for such attribution, every indicator has received the same weight for the aggregation into categories.

3.5 Aggregation into one overall index

The same procedure, for the same reason, which has been followed for calculating the categories, could be applied for the aggregation of the five categories into one figure for the overall index. However, examining the impact of each category on the sustainability of a particular country and of the world at large, it is obvious that quality of life has its main effects – though certainly not all – within this country, whereas sustainability also has serious effects on other countries and on the world at large. Therefore, the three categories with emphasis on quality of life received a weight 1/7th; the two categories with emphasis on sustainability received a double weight, 2/7th. As yet there is no sound scientific theory to support this. However, this has been done to reflect the relative importance of the latter two categories.

Category

Standard weight

Personal Development

1/7th

Healthy Environment

1/7th

Well-balanced Society

1/7th

Sustainable Use of Resources

2/7th

Sustainable World

2/7th

 

The complete set of data is available on the website www.sustainablesocietyindex.com, presented in an Excel spreadsheet, which enables the interested reader to experiment with different weights.

3.6 Sensitivity analysis

Since no solid scientific theory exists for the aggregation into categories and into one single overall index, the sensitivity of the results for the attribution of weights has been analyzed, using the data of the SSI-2008.

The double weights of the latter 2 categories in the table above may be expected to skew the results to a certain extent. Therefore, the calculation was repeated for two alternatives:

  • by giving each of the five categories an equal weight
  • by calculating the overall index as the unweighted average of all 22 indicators.

The outcome of this analysis is summarized below. Details can be found on our website www.sustainablesociety.com.

SSI calculated with equal weights

Calculating the SSI by giving all five categories the same weight raises the average SSI score by 0.13 points from 5.65 to 5.78, i.e. by 2.3%. The scores of the top-ranking countries is only slightly affected. At the sub-top, countries like Vietnam, Georgia, Costa Rica and Guyana end up in a lower position. Their relatively high scores for the category Sustainable World brought these countries to the top of the SSI ranking list, due to the fact that this category has been given a double weight. For the top-15 the average difference in rank is about 3 positions.

At the bottom of the list several countries receive a higher score. For the bottom-15 countries the average difference in rank is 18 positions. Kuwait (+1.0) shows the biggest change in SSI score.

SSI calculated as the unweighted average of all 22 indicators

By calculating the SSI indirectly as we have done by aggregating indicators into categories and then aggregating into the SSI, we have assigned more or less unintended weights. Since not every category comprises the same number of indicators, indicators making up a category with only three indicators receive a higher weight than indicators that are part of a category with six indicators. As might be expected, there is a greater difference compared with the SSI than if we give ‘only’ the categories the same weight. The average score is raised by 0.36 points, from 5.65 to 6.01, i.e. by 6.4%.

At the very top changes in ranking are even smaller than by calculating the SSI with equal weights for the categories. The average difference in ranks is about 4 places for the top-15 countries. At the bottom of the list we find larger changes, the largest being again for Kuwait (+1.46).

The conclusion can be drawn that the SSI is not very sensitive to the assessed weighting of the categories and indicators.

3.7 Remarks concerning the approach followed

Late 2006 the SSI had been published for the first time, the SSI-2006. The results, distributed mainly via internet, received a warm welcome. People appreciated the clarity and transparency. However, the approach also received criticism, as could be expected. The main remarks were: aggregation by adding apples and oranges, trade-offs between the various indicators and categories and overlap between indicators with respect to energy. These comments have been the subject of further research, together with the aspects which needed further research anyhow. Furthermore, the experiences we gained through working with the SSI were evaluated. The main findings are summarized in Annex 2. For further details refer to our website www.sustainablesociety.com.

4. Main results – Actual situation

4.1 World at large

SSI-score overall index

The world at large has an average score of 5.7. One may be inclined to say, well that’s nearly sufficient. However, bearing in mind that full sustainability requires a 10 for each indicator and thus an overall score of 10, a score of 5.7 is way below sustainability, just over half way.

SSI-score categories

The scores are distributed very unevenly over the 5 categories. Personal Development is doing relatively best, though only relatively. A high score for the indicator International Cooperation is the main cause of the second highest score of Sustainable World.

SSI-score indicators

The following graph shows the average score of the 151 countries for each of the 22 indicators. The differences between the scores are large. The highest score is 9.2 for International Cooperation. The lowest scores are for Waste Recycling (1.7) and Consumption of Renewable Energy (3.2).

It should be remarked that the score for the indicator Consumption of Renewable Energy shows a flattering picture. This score is based on the unweighted average of the scores of the 151 countries, no matter be it a major or a minor energy consumer. The actual world share of Renewable Energy in 2005 was a mere 12.6%.

4.2 Regions

SSI-score overall index

The spider web shows the overall scores of the index for each of the 7 distinct regions in which the 151 countries are grouped. The differences in the scores of the regions are relatively small: they range from 6.1 for Europe to 5.3 for Asia.

SSI-score categories

Taking a look at the scores for the 5 categories in each of the regions separately makes the differences between the regions more visible. The overall picture shows a relatively high score for all regions, apart from Africa, for Personal Development. Lower scores are found for Healthy Environment and Well-balanced Society, and poor scores for Sustainable Use of Resources. Sustainable World scores slightly higher than the latter. The word ‘relatively’ should be emphasized: all scores are way below full sustainability. Even the relatively high scores of North America and Europe for Personal Development still show a gap to full sustainability. This means that a significant number of people is lagging behind in the various aspects of Personal Development.

SSI-score indicators
Looking at the level of indicators, differences are – of course – even more pronounced than at the level of categories. That is the case within each region, but also between the 7 regions. As examples we present three pictures for indicators where differences between the regions are large, without further explanation.

 

4.3 Countries

The world map shows at a glance the level of sustainability of 151 countries for which the SSI has been calculated. With a score of the overall index of 7.0, Sweden is number 1 on the SSI ranking list, the only country with a score of 7. Turkmenistan brings up the rear with a score of 4.1 (for the complete ranking list see Annex 3). The top-10 comprise Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Austria, Iceland, Vietnam, Georgia, New Zealand and Latvia. The 10 countries with the lowest scores are Egypt, Yemen and 8 oil-rich countries.

Detailed information for each category and each indicator is available on our website www.sustainablesocietyindex.com.

In this graph the average scores per income class (according to the Income thresholds, World Bank 2007) for all 22 indicators have been plotted. It offers a most interesting, although not unexpected picture. It appears that low-income countries have the lowest scores for the indicators with emphasis on Quality of Life (Personal Development, Healthy Environment and Well-balanced Environment) and the highest for (most of) the indicators with emphasis on Sustainability (Sustainable Use of Resources and Sustainable World). Exceptions for the latter are Waste Recycling and Forest Area, both not surprisingly. Low-income countries score significantly better on the indicators Emission of Greenhouse Gases and Ecological Footprint. For high-income countries it is the other way round. Middle-income countries have also in this respect a middle position.

5. Progress SSI-2006 – SSI-2008

To get a good insight in the actual level of sustainability is quite informative. To see the developments over time makes this information even more interesting and useful. However, it should be recognized that two years is a very short period. Moreover, a fair comparison is hampered by a serious lack of updates of – reliable – data. Nevertheless, it is certainly worthwhile to have a close look at the progress between the results of the SSI-2006 and the SSI-2008.

5.1 World average

The results show a (very) slight progress of the overall score for the worldwide average. This increase is the composite of both increases and decreases in the scores of the categories.

Since the three indicators of category Healthy Environment couldn’t be updated, due to lack of data, no progress can be reported for this category. The other two categories with emphasis on Quality of Life, show progress, whereas the two categories with emphasis on Sustainability show a decrease.

On their turn, progress of the categories is the cumulative effect of increases and decreases in the scores of the indicators, as shown in the graph to the left.

The scores of all 6 indicators of the category Personal Development have increased, be it modestly. The largest contribution to the progress comes from two indicators which are related to economic developments: Employment and Public Debt. Thanks to growth of the economy worldwide in the period considered, employment has risen and the public debt of many countries declined. A small contribution comes from International Cooperation, since more countries have signed and ratified the assessed international agreements. It should be noted that data do not give information on the actual level of implementation of the agreements by countries.

There is a small decrease in the score for Income Distribution, expressing a growing inequality in income distribution. Renewable Energy Consumption is also deteriorating, in spite of all plans and targets to increase the share of renewables in the still rapidly growing energy consumption. The emission of greenhouse gases has increased, resulting in a decrease of the score for indicator 20. The same applies for Ecological Footprint, which has grown to a worldwide average in 2005 of 2.7 global hectares, compared to a footprint of 2.2 global hectares in 2003. This resulted in a decrease of the score of indicator 21 of almost 0.6 points.

No comparison is possible for the indicators which have not yet been updated. Thus no progress can be reported for 7 of the 22 indicators: Air Quality (indicator 7), Surface Water Quality (8), Land Quality (9), Waste Recycling (15), Use of Renewable Water Resources (16), Forest Area (18) and Preservation of Biodiversity (19).

5.2 Regions

There are significant differences in the progress made in the regions considered, as can be seen from the graph to the right.

However small, all regions, apart from Africa, have contributed to the worldwide progress. The largest increase, although still quite modest, is reported for Oceania, due to an increase of the score for Well-balanced Society. This increase is mainly caused by improved Employment figures.

Looking at the break-down of progress per category (see graph to the left), one sees that two of the four updated categories are progressing in nearly all regions. Since no updates are available for the indicators in the category Healthy Environment, no progress can be shown.

On the other hand, Sustainable Use of Resources is performing rather poorly, with a decline in 4 regions. Sustainable World is deteriorating in all regions but the Russian Federation and Oceania. While in 5 regions the scores for Well-balanced Society improved, the Russian Federation shows an exceptional decrease, mainly due to a sharp rise in income inequality and a decline in employment figures. The same applies, to a lesser extent, to North America, due to a sharp rise in Public Debt.

5.3 Countries

Of the 151 assessed countries 79 improved their score for the overall index, with 0.01 to 0.4 points. 10 countries stayed equal, 62 were in decline by -0.01 to 0.25 points.

Detailed information for each category and each indicator can be found on the website www.sustainablesocietyindex.com].

6. Usage of the SSI

The SSI and its underlying data show at a glance how sustainable a society is: what is going well and where bottlenecks are experienced. It is thus a practical tool for several purposes and for setting and achieving a number of objectives. According to the experiences up till now, the main possibilities for using the SSI are:

  1. To enlarge the awareness of people about the extent of (un)sustainability of their own country. This requires a wide coverage in the media.
  2. As a monitoring and policy instrument for national and regional governments
    This, simplified scheme shows the way the SSI will be used in Romania. More countries have already shown their interest.
    At national level, each indicator will be assigned to a specific ministry. This ministry will be responsible for the development towards sustainability with respect to this indicator. The SSI can monitor the results of projects and programs with respect to the contribution to sustainability. For example, what is the actual progress towards sustainability? Will the targets set by the government be met in time? This will be an input for the revision of projects and for the revision of strategies.
  3. As a benchmark instrument for comparing countries and regions, and thus stimulating each other to make progress on the way to sustainability. Recently a comparison of the SSI-scores (overall score, per category and per indicator) for Eastern European and CIS countries has been made for the OECD-conference in Moscow in September 2008.
  4. For educational purposes at all levels. The SSI has already been integrated in several curricula of universities in the Netherlands and in Romania.
  5. For NGOs to set and monitor their sustainability strategy and to communicate this to the public. Romanian authorities have decided to involve civil society organizations in the process of monitoring the implementation process of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development. The SSI will be the tool which will be used by these organizations in the coming years. Furthermore, NGOs are using SSI as a communication tool for sustainability issues.
  6. As a starting point for further innovations. An example is the development of a tailor-made sustainability index for greenhouse cultures in the Netherlands, based on the concept of the SSI. This new index is already operational.

7. Further development of the SSI

Further development of the SSI is required, along four lines:

  1. Concept of the SSI
    Focus will be laid upon
    • Finding suitable indicators for consumption and for depletion of resources
    • Examining the feasibility of including the suggested additional indicators
    • Identifying alternatives for the collection of data for indicators which have not been updated and cannot be expected to be updated in the near future.
  2. Development of the SSI on regional, i.e. sub-national level
    A regional index is now being developed for the 8 regions of Romania, in close cooperation with the regional authorities. The publication will be issued mid 2009. This regional SSI may well be an example for usage in other regions / countries.
     
  3. Development of sectorial SSI
    Based on the results and experiences with the tailor-made SSI for greenhouse cultures, possibilities for using the SSI in other branches will be elaborated.
     
  4. Dissemination
    Dissemination of the concept and possibilities of the SSI is an ongoing process. Quite different from the other activities mentioned before and certainly not the easiest part of all.

8. Conclusion

It has been demonstrated that the SSI is a simple instrument for assessing a country’s sustainability. The SSI, based on a solid definition, shows at a glance the present level of sustainability of a country and the distance to full sustainability. Since the SSI has only a limited number of indicators, it is easy to understand, to use and to maintain. The SSI offers a country a practical tool for defining targets on its way towards sustainability and for monitoring the progress over time. The underlying data offer the opportunity to analyze differences between countries and thus provide additional stimuli for improvements.

Comments and suggestions are most welcome.

Annex 1: Evaluation of existing indicators and indexes

1. Human Development Index

Developed by the UNDP, published every year. Comprises four sets of data: life expectation at birth, adult literacy rate, combined gross enrollment ratio for primary, secondary and tertiary schools and GDP per capita. HDI covers only a minor part of all aspects of sustainable development.

Conclusion: HDI is very suitable for giving a rough idea of the level of development, particularly in developing countries. For developed countries the HDI is less valuable due to the limited information it contains.

2. Environmental Sustainability Index, ESI-2005

Developed by Columbia University and Yale University, USA. Previous editions in 2001 and 2002. ESI comprises no less than 76 variables, which are aggregated into 21 indicators, resulting in 5 categories. ESI covers the whole range of aspects of sustainable development in its broad context. However, the Gender-Related Index is absent in the ESI and Good Governance receives only minor attention.

Conclusion: ESI supplies a lot of relevant and valuable information, but is not very transparent due to the great amount of data. It is uncertain whether an update will be made.

3. Environmental Performance Index, EPI-2006

Developed by Columbia University and Yale University, USA. Published in 2006 in order to present a better insight into the ‘environmental dimension’ of the Millennium Development Goals. The EPI will be developed further.

EPI comprises 6 categories (Environmental Health, Biodiversity and Habitat, Sustainable Energy, Water Resources, Air Quality, Productive Resource Management), derived from 16 indicators.

Conclusion: the EPI – as the name already suggests – only partly covers sustainable development in its broader context. Regular updates can be expected.

4. Commitment to Development Index, CDI-2006

Set up by the Center for Global Development, an independent, not-for-profit organization in the USA. Publishes the CDI every year since 2003. The CDI reviews for 21 rich countries the level of support given to poor countries to realize prosperity, good governance and security. It is composed of seven components: aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology.

Conclusion: the CDI covers sustainable development only partly and offers information concerning no more than 21 countries.

5. Index for Sustainable Economic Welfare, ISEW

Calculated for over 10 countries, according to the design of Daly and Cobb (1989). The idea of the ISEW is to adjust the Gross Domestic Product of a country for costs that are currently not included in the GDP and/or are consciously shifted to the future (costs of environmental pollution, depletion of resources, costs of traffic accidents, but also matters like domestic and voluntary labor). Results are expressed in dollars.

Conclusion: very valuable as a correction on the GDP. It shows clearly that we are misleading ourselves by taking GDP as a standard. It does not include the main aspects of quality of life and does not offer a clear insight into the level of sustainability of a country. The ISEW is available for a limited number of countries only.

6. Genuine Progress Indicator, GPI

The GPI and ISEW are both variants of the ‘green GDP’. The GPI has been developed by Redefining Progress and was published for the first time in 1998. Its increasing importance is being recognized. The same remarks made regarding the ISEW apply to the GPI.

7. Ecological Footprint

Developed by Wackernagel and Rees, published every two years by the WWF in the Living Planet Report. Converts everything a person consumes (house, mobility, energy, food, recreation, etc.) and what is needed to produce all these items, into the required area on earth, the number of hectares per capita. The Ecological Footprint only partly covers sustainability in its wider sense. There is still quite some discussion about the calculation methodology used, for instance how to convert energy consumption to required acreage.

Conclusion: a valuable index for providing a quick and inspiring idea about the seriousness of the present lack of sustainability. Encourages people to take action. However, the Footprint is not suited for giving a good idea of sustainability in its broader sense.

8. Wellbeing of Nations

Set up by Robert Prescott-Allen in 2001, in cooperation with international institutes. Up till now, published only once. Consists of the Human Wellbeing Index and the Ecosystem Wellbeing Index. Both comprise 5 categories, each based upon several indicators. Covers the whole field of sustainable development. Gives an enormous amount of information, which makes it rather complicated. The way of presentation hampers its accessibility and therefore its use.

Conclusion: excellent, though rather complicated index, published only once to date.

9. Millennium Development Indicators

Set up by the UN in order to monitor progress of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (1990 – 2015). Offers a lot of useful information. However, these indicators have a different goal than measuring the level of sustainability of a country. They do not cover the entire concept of a sustainable society.

Conclusion: valuable set of indicators, excellent for monitoring the effectiveness of policy with respect to the MDGs. Limited usefulness for a good insight into the level of a country’s sustainability.

10. Indicators for the EU Sustainable Development Strategy

The present list of indicators comprises some 100 items. The EU aims at a set consisting of 3 levels, the first two being the most important for policymakers. These two levels will probably comprise some 50 indicators. With an eye on the Lisbon Strategy, among other things, the set comprises many macro-economic indicators.

Conclusion: the set consists of a large number of indicators, including a number of indicators which are not much related to sustainability, like Gross Domestic Product and Official Development Assistance, while other issues only get minor attention or are missing, like Gender-related development and Access to drinking water. The set is limited to the EU-member countries.

11. CSD indicators

This set, developed by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), is published annually since 2003. The set comprises 14 themes, 44 sub-themes, 50 core indicators, and 46 other indicators. The set offers much information. However, some of the indicators are hardly, or not at all, related to sustainability, like GDP, ODA and Tourism. Some indicators are missing, like the important Gender Equality and Sufficient Food, while others are only partly included (Good Governance, International Cooperation, Waste Recycling).

Overall conclusion: many indicators give a lot of information, but they do not completely cover sustainability in its broadest sense.

Annex 2: Remarks on the approach followed

1. Data availability, reliability

In the publication SSI-2006 we already stated that data availability and reliability is a serious concern. The situation has not improved since then. Especially with respect to environmental aspects, the availability of reliable data for a large number of countries is very poor. Concerning economic data, like employment and public debt figures, retrieved from the CIA World Factbook, it is reported that the reliability cannot be guaranteed. Moreover, for quite some indicators no regular updates are available as yet, or even no updates can be expected at all

2. Aggregation and possible trade-offs

Aggregation can be compared to adding apples and oranges, as some people say. However, if one accepts the definition of Sustainability that has been used for the SSI, all 5 categories and 22 indicators are essential for assessing a country’s sustainability – no matter whether they are apples or oranges. The objective of a country should be to achieve full sustainability, so there can be no trade-off between indicators or categories.

3. Overlap in energy

Certainly there is an overlap between the indicators concerning energy, in particular Emission of Greenhouse Gases (indicator 20) and Ecological Footprint (indicator 21). Since Emission of Greenhouse Gases is a major issue and very important for a good insight in sustainability, that indicator cannot be missed. On the other hand, we cannot yet miss the Ecological Footprint either. Up till now it is the only indicator which expresses the level of consumption. The search for more specific indicators on consumption has so far been in vain.

4. Selection of indicators

Economic indicators

Quite often it has been suggested to include more economic indicators, like GDP per capita, productivity rate etc. However, only few people still consider GDP per capita to be a useful indicator for development towards sustainability. In that respect, other indicators, such as the Index for Sustainable Economic Welfare – ISEW or the Sustainable National Income – SNI, are far more relevant. Unfortunately, they cannot be used for the SSI, since these two indicators are available for no more than a couple of countries.

The same applies – for other reasons – for the productivity rate.

Poverty rate

Poverty is most certainly a serious drawback for development as such and thus also for development towards sustainability. Nevertheless, poverty rate has so far not been included in the base set of SSI-indicators, since various effects of poverty are already included: hunger (Sufficient Food), water shortage (Sufficient to Drink), Safe Sanitation, Education Opportunities and also Gender Equality.

Natural resources

We have not been able to identify a useful method to measure the use of raw materials against their availability. As a proxy for the use of raw materials – and the depletion of resources – we have adopted so far the re-use of solid waste materials. Should an explicit indicator on the use of raw materials become available for a large number of countries, we will certainly consider it for inclusion in the SSI.

5. Overall conclusion

The framework of the SSI has remained unchanged so far. In the near future we hope to be able to include an indicator about (depletion of) natural resources and/or level of consumption. And we will follow up the outcomes of future research, from other institutes as well as from our own research.

Annex 3: List of SSI-2008 scores for 151 countries

Country

SSI-score

Rank

Sweden

7,02

1

Switzerland

6,96

2

Norway

6,95

3

Finland

6,93

4

Austria

6,80

5

Iceland

6,69

6

Vietnam

6,67

7

Georgia

6,46

8

New Zealand

6,44

9

Latvia

6,43

10

Costa Rica

6,39

11

Lithuania

6,39

12

Netherlands

6,37

13

Denmark

6,29

14

Guyana

6,29

15

Cuba

6,27

16

France

6,26

17

Albania

6,26

18

Luxembourg

6,25

19

Moldova

6,21

20

Germany

6,21

21

Bangladesh

6,18

22

Chile

6,17

23

Gabon

6,16

24

Portugal

6,16

25

Slovak Republic

6,15

26

Japan

6,12

27

Paraguay

6,11

28

Armenia

6,10

29

Romania

6,09

30

Hungary

6,08

31

Benin

6,06

32

El Salvador

6,06

33

Sri lanka

6,06

34

Uruguay

6,05

35

Gambia

6,05

36

Panama

6,03

37

Nicaragua

6,03

38

Canada

6,02

39

Turkey

6,00

40

Belarus

6,00

41

Cambodia

6,00

42

Nepal

5,99

43

Brazil

5,99

44

Croatia

5,97

45

Jamaica

5,96

46

Bosnia-Herzegovina

5,96

47

Malawi

5,95

48

Kenya

5,93

49

United Kingdom

5,93

50

Slovenia

5,93

51

Mozambique

5,92

52

Ukraine

5,91

53

Italy

5,91

54

Bhutan

5,91

55

Colombia

5,88

56

Uganda

5,86

57

India

5,85

58

Bulgaria

5,84

59

Peru

5,83

60

Burkina Faso

5,83

61

Korea, South

5,82

62

Laos

5,82

63

Australia

5,80

64

Belgium

5,79

65

United States

5,79

66

Kyrgyz Republic

5,79

67

Spain

5,78

68

Czech Republic

5,77

69

Macedonia

5,76

70

Guatemala

5,76

71

Greece

5,75

72

Cameroon

5,74

73

China

5,73

74

Philippines

5,73

75

Estonia

5,73

76

Nigeria

5,70

77

Mauritania

5,70

78

Congo

5,70

79

Ghana

5,70

80

Madagascar

5,68

81

Haiti

5,68

82

Senegal

5,64

83

Ecuador

5,63

84

Mali

5,62

85

Rwanda

5,62

86

Cote d'Ivoire

5,61

87

Dominican Republic

5,61

88

Russia

5,60

89

Guinea

5,59

90

Montenegro

5,58

91

Congo. Dem. Rep.

5,57

92

Central African Republic

5,57

93

Tajikistan

5,56

94

Guinea-Bissau

5,56

95

Serbia

5,53

96

Ireland

5,52

97

Poland

5,52

98

Bolivia

5,52

99

Indonesia

5,52

100

Cyprus

5,51

101

Tanzania

5,49

102

Togo

5,48

103

Myanmar

5,48

104

Trinidad and Tobago

5,47

105

Ethiopia

5,45

106

Namibia

5,42

107

Zambia

5,41

108

Mongolia

5,41

109

Honduras

5,39

110

Tunisia

5,38

111

Papua New Guinea

5,38

112

Chad

5,36

113

Argentina

5,34

114

Niger

5,33

115

Venezuela

5,30

116

Lebanon

5,27

117

Mexico

5,27

118

Sierra Leone

5,23

119

Algeria

5,23

120

Botswana

5,22

121

Kazakhstan

5,22

122

Liberia

5,21

123

Azerbaijan

5,15

124

Malaysia

5,14

125

Burundi

5,14

126

Thailand

5,02

127

Korea, North

5,01

128

Pakistan

4,99

129

Israel

4,99

130

Zimbabwe

4,98

131

Morocco

4,98

132

Angola

4,93

133

Taiwan

4,91

134

Syria

4,91

135

Sudan

4,85

136

Malta

4,80

137

South Africa

4,78

138

Uzbekistan

4,76

139

Jordan

4,73

140

Iran

4,71

141

Egypt

4,69

142

Iraq

4,51

143

Yemen

4,50

144

Libya

4,45

145

Kuwait

4,36

146

United Arab Emirates

4,30

147

Oman

4,25

148

Saudi Arabia

4,23

149

Qatar

4,13

150

Turkmenistan

4,10

151

Annex 4. Further Reading

 

Resources for Food Deserts:

http://onlineprograms.cune.edu/resource/health-human-services/americas-struggle-with-food-deserts-in-underserved-communities

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/10/food-deserts-incredibly-complex-problems.html

http://www.blogher.com/we-know-what-problem-food-deserts-and-tough-conversations

Glossary

Citation

Kerk, G., & Manuel, A. (2014). Sustainable Society Index. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbeefc7896bb431f69ba39

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