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Sustainability: Measurement, Activities and Tools



Example(s) of Implementation

Cooperative Farming

Balinese Rice Subaks

Shared water rights integrated with Tri Hita Karna, (religious tenet emphasizing harmony), practiced more than 1000 years

Governing for Future Generations

Seven Generations

‘In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation...’ – the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations (more than 500 years ago)

Sustainable Yield

E.g. Timber Harvest in Forestry

Royal Mining Office (Germany) and Hanns Carl von Carlowitz suggest Nachhaltiger Ertrag (sustained yield) for timber supply (1713)

Statistical Dispersion (Income Equality)

Gini Coefficent

Corrado Gini, Variability and Mutability, 1912, relative distribution (usually used to measure income inequality)

Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • Jules Dupuit in France analyzes merits of bridge and possible toll rates (for Pres Bonaparte) 1848
  • US Corp of Engineers mandated to use C-B analysis in 1936 Federal Navigation Act

Measure of Economy

Gross Domestic Product

  • William Petty creates first estimate of national income, 1665 (for England – Improved 1696 by King George to measure domestic product by income, production and expenditure)
  • Simon Kuznet presents concept of GDP to US Congress (National Income, 1929-35)
  • Wassily Leontief develops economic input-output model, 1936 (same year John Maynard Keynes publishes “General Theory” and commissions Meade & Stone to estimate national income and expenditure)
  • Upon coronation King Wangchuck of Bhutan declares country’s pursuit is ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ (1972)
  • UN’s Human Development Index (1990)

Measure of Well-Being

Gross Domestic Well-Being

World Values Survey (started 1981, now available for more than 100 countries)

Product Labelling

  • Germany’s Blue Angel Program (1978)
  • Environment Canada’s EcoLogo certified products (1988)

Environmental Agencies

Legislative Establishment

  • Canada Water Act (1970); Department of Environment (1971), advocated ‘ecosystem management’
  • US EPA started December, 1970

Probabilistic Risk Assessment

Risk Informed Decision Making

US National Research Council (1982); US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1983) and NASA

Material Flows Assessment

Urban Metabolism

  • Wolman, Scientific America (1965); ‘Industrial Ecology’ (1989)
  • Urban GHG emissions inventories (approx. 1989)

Equivalency Aggregation

Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY)

Harvard University develops concept for the World Bank as means to measure overall disease burden (1990)

Strategic Decision Making

Game Theory

  • Mixed Strategy Equilibria, zero-sum games (Von Neuman’s minimax theorem, 1928)
  • Tucker’s ‘Prisoner’s dilemma’ (1950)

Life Cycle Assessment

  • Coca Cola retains Midwest Research Institute in 1969 to compare types of beverage containers
  • Proctor & Gamble retains Franklin Associates to compare packaging and surfactants (1988)

Systems Engineering

  • Schlager (1953) – ‘Systems Engineering key to modern development’ (key role in engineering)
  • Interdisciplinary (lifecycle) field of engineering
  • Schlager 1956 (Bell Telephone Laboratories)
  • National Council on Systems Engineering (NCOSE, 1990)
  • ‘Limits to Growth’, MIT, global ecosystems modelling.
  • ‘Ecological engineering’ (1962) coined by H.T. Odum – Systems Ecology and energy/material flows 1983

Scenario Analysis and Integrated Assessment

  • Herman Kahn and Hudson Institute for scenario planning and public policy (1961)
  • Royal Dutch Shell scenario planning (1971)

Contingent Valuation

Willingness to Pay

  • Surveys proposed by Ciriacy-Wantrup (1947)
  • NOAA convenes high-level advisory panel on survey methodology (1993)

Social Entrepreneurship

  • Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, 1981
  • Various – usually individual metrics
  • Grameen Bank, 1983


  • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832): Greatest happiness principle.
  • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873): liberty, scientific method, and utilitarianism.
  • Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946): ‘conservation ethic’ and Wise Use, US Forestry Service
  • Aldo Leopold (1887-1948): land ethic (e.g. A Sand County Almanac)

Earth Summit

UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, 1992

  • 109 heads of state
  • Agenda 21 (Local Agenda 21)
  • Outcomes: climate change convention, convention on biological diversity, UNFCCC, reform of GEF, statement of forest principles
  • ‘Common but differentiated responsibilities’

Use of Indicators

Simple indicators

Numerous examples, including Australia’s Sustainable Forest Management Framework, e.g., Indicator 1.1.a – Area of forest by forest type and tenure

Compound and

complex indicators

World Economic Forum’s sustainably-adjusted Global Competitiveness Index (GCI)


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

Standard practice in many countries for all new developments

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels Fossil Fuel Baseline Calculation Methodology (RSB-STD-01-003-02)

Framework Assessments

European Research Projects

  • European Common Indicators (1999 – 2003)
  • LASALA – Local Authorities’ Self-Assessment of Local Agenda 21 (1999 – 2002)
  • Indicators to Assess New Urban Services (2000 – 2003)
  • Urban-Nexus (2011 – 2014)

Equivalence Measurement

Ecological Footprint

  • William Rees (1992)
  • Wackernagel and Rees (1996)

Maintenance of Capital Stocks and Flows

Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Sustainability

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) founded in Boston (1997)

Schemes and Standards for Measuring, Assessing, Reporting and Certifying Sustainability

  • Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management
  • Forest Stewardship Council – Certification
  • The Carbon Disclosure Project (2000)
  • The Standards Map: information on 120 voluntary standards operating in over 200 countries, and certifying products and services in more than 80 economic sectors
  • ISO 9000 Quality Standards
  • EcoChoice, Blue Dot, Fair Trade
  • ‘Dolphin Safe’
  • Jantzi Social Index
  • Energystar
  • Acumen (Capital) Fund, 2001

(Driver-Impact) Pressure-State-Response (DIPSR)

Pressure-State-Response (PSR)

OECD: Environmental Indicators 2008; Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (voluntary standards), 1976

Accounting System Approaches

System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA)

SEEA Central Framework, adopted in 2012 as an international standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission, supported by the European Commission, FAO, IMF, OECD, UN and World Bank

Consumption-based Accounting (CBA)

United Kingdom 2011-2013 – Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with the University of Leeds, developing a CBA Indicator for GHG emissions

Supply Chain

Global Forest Watch (with WRI, 1997)


  • Dow Jones Sustainability Index, 1999
  • Yale’s Environmental Sustainability Index, 2000
  • Transparency International started by Peter Eigen, 1993
  • World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index launched Nov, 2001

Risk Assessment Dealing with Uncertainty

Risk Assessment and Management

  • ISO 31000 – Risk Management
  • Risk Management – Principles and Guidelines

Subjective Well-Being

Cognitive and affective evaluations; Ed Denier (2000) – proposes a US national Index of SWB

Rating of Buildings

Sustainable Buildings

  • BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology, 1990)
  • US Green Building Council (1993), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design, 2000)
  • Canadian GBC (2002)
  • BOMA (founded 1907) provides advisory services and ratings for building owners

Rating of Cities

  • GaWC – Globalization and World Cities, Beaverstock et al., 1998 – e.g., London and NYC ‘Alpha++’
  • Saskia Sassen, The Global City (1991), NYC, Tokyo and London. Now city raking and  indices common and widespread, e.g. Mercer Index of Livability, 2000
  • WHO ‘Healthy Cities Project’, 53 indicators from 47 cities (1992-94)
  • Mercer (2005), Economist (2005), Siemens Green City Index (started 2009), and others, ranking cities for ‘livability’, ‘quality of life’, etc.

Management Approaches: Adherence to Prescribed Approaches

Best Management Practices (BMP), Codes of Practice; Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

  • Cotton Australia’s MYBMP, a best management practice tool for Australia’s cotton growers
  • BSI Group – first EMS (BS 7750)
  • ISO 14000 series (1996); ISO 14001 used by more than 250,000 organizations in 159 countries (ISO, 2010)

Six Sigma

Motorola introduces quality control scheme, 1988

Cost Curves

Marginal Abatement Cost Curves

Rose in prominence post Kyoto Protocol, e.g., McKinsey Global GHG abatement cost curve to 2030

Adaptive Management

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency – Operational Policy Statement: Adaptive Management Measures under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

Engineering Principles

Strategic Guidance

  • Sustainable Development in the Consulting Engineering Industry. FIDIC (2000) list of 18 objectives
  • Clift and Morris (2002), Engineering with a human face. Dealing with uncertainty; social acceptance

Millennium Development Goals

UN consensus – various metrics, various attainment

  • Established September 2000. Eight goals over 15 years to 2015: (i) eradicate extreme poverty; (ii) primary education; (iii) gender equality; (iv) child mortality; (v) maternal health; (vi) combat disease; (vii) environmental sustainability; and (viii) partnership for development

Rio +10

Johannesburg, 2002

Johannesburg Declaration

Included some 300 ‘partnership initiatives’ to help achieve MDGs

Scenario Analysis and Integrated Assessment

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – 5th Assessment Report (AR5)
  • Shell Oil scenario planning continues

Environmental Performance Index

  • Fare et al (2004) apply environmental performance index to sample of OECD countries
  • Esty and Porter (2005) – National Environmental Performance (data-driven and analytical rigour)

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) - Ecosystem Services Report

  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  • UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2011

Resilience Thinking, Thresholds and Planetary Boundaries

  • Resilience Practice: Engaging the Sources of our Sustainability, Brian Walker and David Salt (2012), exploring the application of resilience theory to real-world situations
  • Rockstrom et al., A safe operating space for humanity, (climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, N and P cycles, freshwater use, biodiversity loss, land use – plus pollution and aerosols), 2009

Measuring City Performance

City Indicators,

GCIF (2007)

  • Federation of Canadian Municipalities, ‘Quality of Life in Canadian Communities’ (2001)
  • European Common Indicators, Towards a Local Sustainability Profile (2003)
  • The power and potential of well-being indicators. A pilot project by nef (the New Economics Foundation) and Nottingham City Council (2004)
  • World Bank discussion paper, The Current Status of City Indicators. “City Indicators: Now to Nanjing” presented at WUF3, Vancouver (2006)

Urban Growth Modelling

City Scaling

West and Bettencourt propose city scaling – economy scales super-linearly while infrastructure scales sub-linearly

Emissions Inventory

GHG Protocol

GHG emissions inventory (national, regional and city) – Scopes 1, 2 and 3; ISO 14064 (2006) from WBCSD-WRI 1998

Adaptive Governance

Adaptive governance and climate change, Ronald D. Brunner and Amanda H. Lynch (2010), arguing for decentralized adaptive governance to provide diversity and innovation in addressing climate change

Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Various corporate forms, ISO 26000 (November 2010): e.g. Marks & Spencer, Plan A; Body Shop; Patagonia
  • Sustainability Consortium (2009) – ASU, University of Arkansas and Walmart – product sustainability metrics (now more than 100 member companies)

Engineering Principles

Strategic Guidance

  • Shanghai Declaration on Engineering and Sustainable Development. WFEO (2004) – commit to: ethics; interdisciplinarity; education and capacity building; gender issues; international cooperation
  • Abraham (2006) proposed nine principles
  • National directives: ICE, UK (2003); IPE, NZ (2004); Eng Aus., IIE, Spain (2005); CSCE and Engineers Canada (2006)
  • Meadows, Thinking in Systems (2008)

Engineering Tools

Infrastructure Ratings

  • Arup’s ASPIRE (2008) with DFID and Engineers Against Poverty
  • Envision Infrastructure Rating System by ISI
  • Numerous other tools, e.g., BE2ST, GreenLITES, Greenroads, I-LAST and INVEST

Rio +20

Rio de Janeiro, 2012

  • Billed as largest UN event ever organized
  • ~45,000 participants (130 heads of state)
  • Renewing Agenda 21
  • ‘Green economy roadmap’ with SDGs (“The Future we Want”)
  • Larger role for UNEP

Defining Urban Boundaries and Borders

Consultative or Directive

Data, Boundaries, Competiveness: The Toronto Urban Region in Global Context. Global City Indicators Facility (2013)

Community Indicators

World Council on City Data

Sustainable development of communities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life. ISO 37120 (2014)

Sustainable Cities

Guidance Document

  • Indicators of the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative, Inter-American Development Bank, 2013
  • Certu, European Commission

Resource Efficient Cities

UNEP – International Resource Panel – ‘Decoupling’


Global or Regional Assessments

WWF Living Planet Report (2014) – ‘half of all global wildlife lost since 1970’

Assessment Tools

Higg Index

  • Apparel and footwear products – used by hundreds of organizations
  • Sustainability Consortium (100+ corporate members, 7 retail sectors)

Modelling, Data Management, ‘Smart Cities’

Predictive Analytics

Predictive policing, e.g., Santa Cruz

Algorithms in Policy Making

Traffic management, e.g., Lyon, Stockholm

Data Mining and Systems Development

City management through data collection and predictive modelling, e.g., Rio de Janeiro, New York, Kunming

Indexes, continued


Yale’s Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) modified to Environmental Performance Index (EPI), 2005 – national rankings published annually (with WEF)


Notre Dame – Global Adaptation Index (GAIN) – transferred from Global Adaptation Institute, 2013 – national rankings published annually

Sustainable Development Goals

UN consensus, 2015

  • Target implementation 2016 to 2030
  • As of August 2015, 169 targets and 304 indicators proposed
  • Comprised of 17 goals: (i) end poverty; (ii) end hunger, promote sustainable agriculture; (iii) promote well-being; (iv) quality education for all; (v) gender equality; (vi) sustainable water and sanitation for all; (vii) sustainable energy for all; (viii) economic growth and productive employment work for all; (ix) sustainable industrialization; (x) reduce inequality; (xi) sustainable cities; (xii) sustainable consumption and production; (xiii) combat climate change and its impacts; (xiv) conserve the oceans; (xv) manage lands and halt biodiversity loss; (xvi) inclusive societies and institutions; (xvii) revitalize global partnerships

NB: Ballantine (CitiesToday, Oct 2014) and Monnen & Clark (2013) list more than 150 benchmarking tools for sustainable cities metrics, e.g., Corporate Knights, Siemens Green City Index, AT Kearney’s Global Cities Index, Mercer, ICLEI, C40, Covenant of Mayors, GRI, Eurostat Urban Audit. Poveda and Lipsett (2014) outline more than 600 existing approaches to sustainability assessment (mainly for buildings and infrastructure projects). Adapted from World Economic Forum, Designing for Action: Principles of Effective Sustainability Measurement (2013). European research projects from Moreno Pires et al (2014). Engineering principles adapted from Gagnon et al. (2008).

From: Hoornweg, D., A Cities Approach to Sustainability, University of Toronto, 2015.

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