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