Indicator Checklist
Address carrying capacity
   Natural 3 Points
   Social 2 Points
   Financial 1 Point
Understandable 1 Points
Long-term view 1 Points
Linkages 7 Points
Not at expense of global sustainability

Talking Points
  • Checklist ranking is in addition to the fundamental requirement that the indicator is relevant to the community
  • Address carrying capacity of all three types of community capital
  • Be understandable
  • Provide long-term view
  • Link different areas of community

An indicator is a lot like a compass: it points out a direction in which to move. But, just like a compass, it's important that an indicator be properly calibrated--that it really be pointing in the right direction. If not, it can lead you somewhere you had no intention of going. The checklist is a way to calibrate sustainable community indicators based on a set of characteristics that all good sustainability indicators share.

Two key components of sustainability are the concept of community capital and carrying capacity. Community capital reperesents all those things a community has that allow its inhabitants to live and interact productively. There are three components to community capital: natural capital, social capital and financial/built capital. Carrying capacity is the ability of a community's capital to provide for the community's needs over the long term. Good indicators of sustainability address whether a community is maintaining and enhancing the capital on which it depends.

The checklist is designed to identify indicators that are, in general, good indicators of sustainability. However, just because an indicator scores high on the checklist does not mean it is right for every community. The number of salmon is relevant in Seattle, but not in Arizona. The number of subway riders is relevant in urban areas, but useless in rural areas. Each community must decide if a particular indicator is relevant to its own situation and whether there is reliable data for that indicator.

The checklist has seven questions. Each positive answer earns points. Some questions are more important than others and so result in more points. Partial credit is not only allowed, it's encouraged! The total possible score for an indicator is 15 points, although few indicators earn more than 10 points.

The most important question on the checklist is the last question. It does not have any points because it is the "show stopper" question. Does the indicator focus on local sustainability at the expense of global sustainability? Any indicator that says "we are going to be better off by making someone else worse off" is automatically disqualified. This does not mean that one community cannot be better than another community. There will always be communities that succeed while others fail. It just means that it is not acceptable for a community to succeed at the expense of another community.
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Copyright © 1998 Maureen Hart. All rights reserved.